THE CAMPAIGN Review

It was a tad bit disappointing when I realized that this summer there wouldn't be a collaboration between star Will Ferrell and director Adam Mckay. Since 2004 they have made a film every other year beginning with the minor masterpiece and now cult classic Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy. They have since followed up with hit after hit including Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys. This was the year for their return if they were going by any former schedule but it looks like things have gone a little off course in trying to settle a deal to make a sequel to that grand introduction to Ferrell we received eight years ago. Still, any Ferrell fan should be thankful as we at least have a film at all to go see this summer featuring our favorite man-child. Turns out, its a pretty darn funny one as well. While the news that The Campaign wouldn't be a Ferrell/McKay team-up was disheartening enough I was even more skeptical about the project when it was stated that director Jay Roach would be at the helm. Roach has a resume full of successful comedies including the three Austin Powers films and Meet the Parents, but then again he also made Dinner for Schmucks a couple of years ago. A film that had so much potential to be a great comedy but instead fell flat on its face. Thus, the reason I was so worried for The Campaign. It doesn't seem all that hard to make a funny movie when you seemingly have a bunch of funny people around, but that isn't necessarily the case. While The Campaign could have certainly been slightly more focused and inventive with its comedy it is an effective political satire and an all out comedy that regardless of how, had me laughing from beginning to end. It is, in a word: hilarious.

Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) and his family endure
some tough times in The Campaign.
If there was anything we knew we'd be able to count on going into this film it was that the team-up between Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis would promise well...something. It was clear from the previews that Galifianakis had worked up something special for his character of Marty Huggins while Ferrell was more or less playing his man-child schtick crossed with his impersonation of George Bush. Upon delving into the film it becomes more and more clear that these guys couldn't have done a better job of complimenting one another. It makes the whole thing work. Whether it be polishing their public personas, placing their seasoned knowledge or energized innocence into campaigning, or forgetting the whole point of what they're doing all of it for in the first place, it pretty much all works. They come at it from such different places and all of it gets to the point that it is so over the top we are basically seeing the behind the scenes antics of how ridiculous real-life campaign's of today have become. Granted, both Galifianakis's Huggins and Ferrell's Cam Brady are no doubt exaggerations of multiple real life inspirations the bottom line is the fact they will stoop to any low for the win, even if the job they will take on afterwards matters very little. It is about the image, the reputation. This is where the comedy clearly lies in the situation as Brady and Huggins try to one up each other while pointing out each others flaws to their voting audience. I liked that the film went over the top in almost every aspect, I like that they decided to set the film in the south, I even enjoyed the strong political commentary on how much money it takes to actually run one of these things. While I don't generally know much about the political game even I could take away the stabbing points that The Campaign is mocking.

Marty, Mitch (Jason Sudeikis), Tim (Dylan McDermott),
and Cam (Will Ferrell) face off against one another.
Still, as I sat there and enjoyed the film for the ridiculously vulgar comedy it provided me I became more and more impressed with the tone of the whole thing. I walked in expecting the movie to feel slightly rushed if not a little cheap. It seemed for such a big comedy starring two seasoned comics that the exposure for the film had ramped up rather late in the game and that there wasn't a ton of support behind the movie. Turns out what I at first thought might come to be weaknesses were what the film had in its corners all along. In those early days when first hearing of the project I mentioned I was worried that Roach and co. would lose themselves and his brand of comedy with two such actors combined with subject matter that was both ripe for satire and extremely timely. Little did I know Roach had recently directed more heavy-handed dramas for HBO that included the Sarah Palin inspired Game Change and the Bush/Gore film Recount. This combination of experience with both the subject matter and off-the-wall comedy shines throughout the film. This is clear from the beginning as big money runs everything; here in the form of the Motch brothers (a slyly used John Lithgow and Dan Akroyd) who are no doubt a send up of some actual filthy rich businessmen who are running the government or a certain party with their "influence".

The Motch brothers have, for years, backed Brady who knows how to spout words that sound good to the crowd while not actually meaning anything. Too bad he has a knack for keeping one too many mistresses as well and just before the election, where he usually runs unopposed, he leaves a rather explicit message on the wrong answering machine. This misstep creates the need for the Motch bros to bring in a candidate to oppose Brady. The best they can do is Marty Huggins, the son of a veteran (Brian Cox) who has strong ties to the Motch's. Galifianakis makes Huggins a squirrely and slightly odd guy who is so naive and innocent it is almost hurtful to watch as his assigned campaign manager Tim Wattley (a hilariously subtle Dylan McDermott) transforms him from this humble family man to a politician willing to do or say anything for the win. While Galifianakis makes this transformation seamlessly it is by way of his performance one of the best things about the film. He delivers the laughs, he keeps up the persona without drastically changing the character, but we see him become a different person. It is alarming, while at the same time hard not to laugh at. Which in many ways is all the more unsettling.

Cam Brady will stoop to any level to try and win.
While after a second or third viewing I might have a change of opinion on the film, for the time being I was pleasantly surprised not only by the amount of laughs I got from The Campaign, but also how sharp of a wit the overall film had. We know it is making fun of politics, heck the majority of us don't need comedians playing the politicians to laugh at the whole farce that has become the election process, but if anything this movie makes the pill easier to swallow. It would like to disguise itself as a rather standard Will Ferrell comedy but in reality, if we want to, there is more to look for here. I didn't have high expectations going in. I expected more Bewitched Will Ferrell than I did SNL-era Ferrell, but what we got was a well thought out, funny movie that really had everyone invested in it. There is nothing worse than a comedy where it feels like the makers have simply thrown together a story around two funny guys that they know will bring in the box office returns. As comedies have not exactly been landing record numbers lately (with the exception of Ted) it is nice to see a film where the people behind and in front of the camera are getting the same amount of satisfaction out of their work as they hope the audience will. There are small complaints here and there that one could make about The Campaign, but they are far outweighed by the positive attributes this film carries. You laugh, you learn a little, and you begin to wonder how close this all really is to reality.