THE CAMPAIGN – The Review
We’ve made it through another election season, and it was quite a nasty one ( at least here in Missouri ). After we’ve cleaned up all the mud that was slung and before it starts all over again for the big national elections ( with the conventions and debates ) let’s have a few laughs at the whole process. That’s just what THE CAMPAIGN aims for. What’s interesting about this late Summer satire is that it brings together talents from several different comedy film camps ( much as THE EXPENDABLES teamed up several action stars ). Helming the hysterics is Jay Roach, perhaps best known for MEET THE PARENTS and its first sequel along with the Austin Powers trilogy ( he’s made two acclaimed real-life political films for HBO: ” Game Change” and ” Recount ” ). One of this film’s candidates is played by Will Farrell, a member of the media-dubbed” frat pack ” ( this includes Will’s movie break-out OLD SCHOOL co-stars Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson ). His comedy film reign is well into its second decade now. Will’s CAMPAIGN rival his played by a more recently crowned film comedy royal, Zach Galifianakis. Zach’s been kicking around the comic scene in film and TV for a while ( he even appeared in a skit on ” Funny or Die”, a website that Will co-founded ), but made the big leap with THE HANGOVER. So do these movie comedy stylists play well together and produce an impressive symphony of laughter?
The setting for this romp is a state full of real-life political comedy, North Carolina. It’s time for the elections and it looks like multiple term senator, party-boy Cam Brady ( Farrell ) , will run unopposed despite his recent scandal. Ah, but the devious industrialists the Motch brothers ( Dan Akroyd and John Lithgow ) have a plan. In order to relocate their foreign sweatshops to the state, they need their own puppet in office. The duo decide on the youngest son of an old crony ( Brian Cox ) : the odd , small-town tourism director Marty Huggins ( Galifianakis ). But this wimpy little guy has to be made-over to be electable, so the tough Tim Wattley ( Dylan McDermott ) is sent to change Matt and guide his campaign. When the incumbent and the novice meet sparks fly ( and laughs ensue ) as they stop at nothing in their quest for the coveted Senate seat.
To say anymore would spoil the film. Yes, there are lots of surprises along with lots of laughs, but this comic trio merging seems to sag about an hour into it. Luckily Roach knows that brevity helps comedy and doesn’t head past the two-hour mark as Judd Apatow frequently does ( love most of Judd’s stuff, but he should save more for the disc bonus features). One problem may be the idea that any bit of dialogue or schtick is funnier when repeated with increasing volume. That seldom works ( especially when the bit seems off script ). Perhaps it’s the escalating attack ads aimed at each other that are tedious. Maybe each new scandal with Cam becomes weary. How forgiving are these voters? The first stumble would end a political career forever ( yeah it’s a satire, but the suspension of disbelief was tested to its limits ).
The cast is certainly giving 110%. Cam may be a mix of Ron Burgundy’s sexist pig and Ricky Bobby’s corn pone doofus, but Farrell can still deliver the yucks when needed. Galifiankis seems to doing the most acting here and creates a character we’ve not seen him do on film. Marty’s a bit fey and mild-mannered, but is a tiger when Cam goes after his family. Marty has little in common with Zach’s usual movie stoners. The two leads have great support from a terrific cast. The discovery here is Dylan McDermott. Turns out this small screen vet has some great comedic chops. His scenes with Zach really crackle as Wattley takes command of Marty’s life. On the other side SNL MVP Jason Sudeikis as Cam’s campaign manager Mitch doesn’t have as much to do as Dylan. In most scenes he’s regulated to being Farrell’s straight man, rolling his eyes in disbelief, although he’s great helping Cam during a debate. Akroyd and Lithgow have little to do besides rubbing their hands together with evil glee like Mr. Burns from ” The Simpsons”. They’re a bit reminiscent of the Duke brothers from Akroyd’s classic TRADING PLACES ( it can’t be almost 30 years old! ). Kudos, though, to the actresses playing the candidates’ wives. Katherine LaNasa as Cam’s wife is one tough, determined woman. She cares nothing about the Cam’s parade of bimbos as long as she can get to the White House ( as the second lady since Cam’s on the veep short list ). Marty’s wife Mitzi, played by the delightful Sarah Baker, is sweetly supportive of her hubby, but she has a wild streak ( especially for a certain TV star ). Speaking of the ladies I must single out Karen Maruyama as the Huggins family housekeeper, She steals every scene she’s in.
THE CAMPAIGN takes some sharp jabs at the political process, but a ‘ Capra-esque finale’ dulls the barbs ( the last scenes reek of market research ). Still there’s quite a bit of truth mixed in with the big laughs. It’s a shame the film doesn’t sustain the momentum of its first act. But if you’re fans of these two comic icons you shouldn’t regret casting your ballot at the box office.
Overall rating: 3.5 Out of 5 Stars