Synopsis: In order to gain influence over their North Carolina district, two CEOs seize an opportunity to oust long-term congressman Cam Brady by putting up a rival candidate. Their man: naive Marty Huggins, director of the local Tourism Center.
Stars: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Katherine LaNasa, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, Brian Cox, P.J. Byrne
Director: Jay Roach
TMMM Score (5/10):
Review: Election Day may be several months away but the makers of The Campaign would have you believe that you’re in the thick of the political mud right here and now. A smartly timed release, however, can’t totally save a film that doesn’t have as many ballots in its joke box as it thinks it does. The teaming of two strong comedians in a raunchy R-rated comedy most likely had Warner Brothers head honchos salivating in their suede shoes, but the results are decidedly hit and (mostly) miss. You’ll laugh…but you may wish you hadn’t after the fact.
Most of the ads have mentioned that director Roach is responsible for the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents films while neglecting to point out that he’s spearheaded two excellent political satires for television, Game Change and Recount, that skewered some very true life stories. So Roach is in a slightly familiar stomping ground which is why the film has a fresh, nearly bubbly quality to it. It shines like a new penny with crisp colors in a strong production design.
I’m not sure how much direction Roach gave Ferrell and Galifianakis because it seems like they were given free rein to do their shticky thing throughout. Ferrell plays a dialed back version of a handful of characters he perfected on SNL to create a dunderhead politician that is all libido and no policy. He’s ran unchallenged for many a term and when he’s caught in a scandal his powerful CEO backers (Aykroyd and Lithgow pretty much playing the Don Ameche/Ralph Bellamy characters from Trading Places) decide to put their money on a different horse.
The horse in question is Galifianakis who has settled on playing his character with a wispy voice complete with lisp and a general light-in-the-loafers attitude. I’d say it’s offensive but it’s such an obvious and uninspired character choice that it would only offend if it was the least bit creative. As it stands, Galifianakis does elicit some laughs from his manner of dress and sweetly small-town attitude but Mr. Deeds Goes to Town he is not.
Galifianakis and Ferrell become opponents in a race that gives mudslinging a bad name. Idiotic debates, devastating attack ads, and Ferrell’s penchant for not once but twice punching an unwitting constituent in the face all add to the lunacy on the campaign trail. An icky subplot involving infidelity takes the cruel factor one step too far and the movie has to work hard to get the audience back from such a nasty swipe.
In between all that I think there was some message about honor, dignity, and family values but the satire gets squashed in favor of crude jokes and mean-spirited plots of revenge. Perhaps with two different stars the film could have achieved what it was trying to say but it’s hard to get any word in edge-wise when Ferrell and Galifianakis are galloping along this horse race.
Did I laugh? Of course I did. There are several exchanges that will produce the necessary belly laughs and strangely enough none of them involve the leads. Aside from Ferrell and Galifianakis Roach has peppered his film with veteran actors and up-and-comers that make the most of their screen time. I could easily have seen bigger female stars playing the wives of the candidates but instead Roach cast comic actresses that were simply right for their roles.
At less than 90 minutes The Campaign does start to sag just as the election results are coming in. Who wins and who loses isn’t really the issue here because you’ll probably figure out what’s going to happen long before the votes are tallied and the credits roll. What matters most is what enjoyment you can derive from some overly raunchy humor delivered by comedians that I think could have done better.