Film Review: The Campaign

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Galifianakis vs. Ferrell

Courtesy of Warner Bros./ Gary Sanchez Productions

There are two types of people in this world: those who like Will Ferrell and those that don’t. I fall into the former. Over the past several years, his comedic films have been somewhat of a guilty pleasure of mine. Sure, he likes to play the same man-child character in every film, but he seems to find a way to make it work in multiple contexts.

This summer, we have his turn in Jay Roach’s The Campaign starring opposite Zach Galifianakis. Ferrell plays incumbent North Carolina U.S. representative Cam Brady who, after years of running unopposed, is challenged by the disarming and effeminate family man Marty Huggins played by Galifianakis. Due to Brady’s several ineffective terms marked with promiscuity and other forms of controversy, Huggins is handpicked by a pair of wealthy billionaires to unseat Brady and become a political puppet. The varied social ineptness of the two candidates combined with their states of arrested development throws the campaigning process into a state of complete chaos.

The premise of the film starts out rather promising: a satirical look at campaigning for a federal office starring to comedic titans of modern cinema. That’s exactly what had me so excited about this film earlier in the year. Unfortunately, it all falls apart in execution. The Campaign never quite reaches levels I expected it to.

It would be easy to criticize the shallow story, but it isn’t exactly uncommon in comedies these days to lack a strong narrative. There are many films that extend a 40-minute story into a 90-minute feature and fill the balance with jokes and improv. I am not opposed to this structure provided the filler is entertaining. Step Brothers did this perfectly. The Campaign does not. We see an attempt at reproducing the formula of comedies such as Step Brothers but the result ends up feeling stale and lacking in creativity; flat if you will. Sadly, the funniest moments are the ones already presented in the trailers.

Ferrell on Fire

Courtesy of Warner Bros./ Gary Sanchez Productions

What makes Will Ferrell so endearing in his films is that even though he plays the same basic character in each outing, he is always able to kick it up to an unequivalent notch. There is a zaniness to his turns that highlight his talent as a comedian. Never in the course of the film does Ferrell present this. Instead, his Cam Brady strolls through the film at the same pace and ultimately becomes a rather dull character.

Zach Galifianakis’ Marty Huggins doesn’t fare much better. Much like Ferrell, Galifianakis is at this best when he can be over-the-top. Marty Huggins is a hyper-realistic character but his nature is far too constricting for Zach. He is sort of shoehorned into playing this reserved goody-two-shoes and is never allowed to venture into more ridiculous territory. His funniest moments involve interactions with his family and his pugs and there are just a handful of those scenes.

There isn’t much to be said about the rest of the cast. I was hoping for a little more out of everyone else especially Jason Sudeikis who made a mainstream name for himself last year in Horrible Bosses. Despite what the trailer may insinuate, Sudeikis seems to only be in the film for a few minutes and he is forced to play the straight-man to Ferrell which doesn’t suit him well. Dylan McDermott, who is usually a dramatic actor, takes a stab at comedy as Marty Huggins’ slithery campaign manager Tim Wattley but his attempt comes off as feeling forced and hammy (even for a comedy). Dan Aykroyd, Brian Cox, and John Lithgow briefly appear as nothing more than just legendary names to add to the casting list.

In a summer that has been lacking in big-time comedy, this film was poised to take the crown as the 2012 summer laugh champ. The promise of The Campaign is wasted in its mediocre script and lazy execution. I wanted to like this film, but I found myself grinding in my seat as I waited for a sliver of comedy that I had not already been exposed to in the trailer. The Campaign isn’t a BAD film, it’s just not on par with the other efforts we have seen from the talent involved. I can’t whole-heartedly endorse seeing this in theaters, but if you are curious about it then it might be worth a rental.

RATING: Somewhere between MEH and FACE PALM…but leaning more toward FACE PALM.

One Comment

  1. Meta Josh says:

    Very good review. I haven’t seen the movie as of yet but based on this review and the 1 other trusted source review I read, everything is confirmed. More toward face palm indeed.

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