The Campaign – Ferrell and Galifianakis duke it out

The partnership of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay has previously given us comedy films The Other Guys, Talladega Nights and of course the classic Anchorman (sequel finally coming next year – hopefully). Their latest film, The Campaign, again starring Ferrell, with a story by McKay and written by other comedy writing alumni Chris Henchy (The Other Guys), Shawn Harwell (the excellent TV show Eastbound & Down), and directed by Jay Roach (the Austin Powers films), is a comedy that takes a swipe at American politics and the dirty dealings some will do to make it to the top.

Ferrell plays Democratic Congressman Cam Brady, about to run for his fifth term in North Carolina. He always gets elected – being the only candidate in the running is always useful for that. But things are about to change. The corrupt Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) decide to put another candidate forward on the Republican side; one who will listen to (and resolutely back) the ideas they want to endorse – specifically their illegal deals with Chinese sweatshops. Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), an incompetent man who they know through Marty’s father (Brian Cox), is naïve as they come and perfect for them. And once Marty has seen what he could be a part of, he absolutely wants it. Cue conflict a plenty between the two candidates as they become more and more desperate to grab more votes from the public.

The Campaign is a film with plenty of funny moments, mostly due to the excellent character performances from Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. Ferrell is his usual great self and has some one-liners to match even those gems of Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy. But he seems restrained in comparison to the OTT camp Galifianakis who nearly steals the show from him. There are also some great comedic performances from the supporting players: Jason Sudeikis as Cam’s loyal campaign manager, Aykroyd and Lithgow as the evil faces of the corrupt corporation, and Katherine LaNasa as Cam’s bitter wife. It is Dylan McDermott as Marty’s campaign manager who is the standout among these side characters though, creating a funny, yet very sinister man who will similarly stop at nothing to get Marty to win.

Despite all of this, The Campaign is nowhere near up to the usual standard of McKay and Ferrell comedies. There are no jokes that stick in your mind as classic comedy moments. In fact overall, it’s a very immemorable film. It is enjoyable to watch at the time, but you can’t ever imagine wanting a repeated viewing of it. The ending is also bizarre – it becomes steadily emotional and serious in order to deliver a moral message (and possibly a political wish) at the conclusion. There’s not necessarily a problem with the writers and director trying to get their overall point across to the audience, but the change in tone here is strange and leaves the film feeling downbeat. It ends very suddenly as well, as if they couldn’t decide how to conclude it. The tacked on extra credits scene feels like they are making a desperate attempt to give the audience some laughs before they leave. Thing is most people will already have gone by then.

The Campaign could have been so much more if the ramming home of the political message was more subtle. Instead this blend of comedy and drama leaves a weird impression. The film would be non-existent were it not for the strength in performances from Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis who both give strong reasons to watch it. But really, despite a few funny parts, you expect something more from a production with this much comedy credentials to its name, not just a flash-in-the-pan viewing. Very disappointing.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on November 22, 2012.

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