Friday, November 9, 2012

After A Good Start, The Campaign Becomes Stubbornly Mediocre.

The Good: Humor, Zach Galifianakis’s performance, Initial plot
The Bad: In the middle, it stops being as funny
The Basics: Not a bad Will Ferrell comedy, The Campaign starts as a smart treatise on American politics before degenerating into a very standard comedy film.

Now that the 2012 election cycle is finally over, my wife and I took in the latest Will Farrell magnum opus, The Campaign. My wife is a big fan of Will Farrell and I tend to enjoy politically-themed movies. For sure, I never expected The Campaign to be as civically-minded as, for example, Swing Vote (reviewed here!), but given how the comedy actually begins with some decent moments that imply the importance of political activism, the movie quickly raised my hopes. Sadly, though, for as good as The Campaign begins, it quickly degenerates into a very standard Will Farrell comedy.

Actually, The Campaign stops being funny right around the middle as it strives for absurd humor instead of keeping a tight, political comedy that worked. After a time, The Campaign simply drags and recycles its own jokes.

Cam Brady is a North Carolina Congressman in the House of Representatives who spews obvious slogans and has affairs with young women who show up at his ridiculous campaign rallies. Looking forward to his next unopposed election to the House, Cam is shocked when the odd local, Marty Huggins applies to run against him. Supported by the Motch brothers, who have an agenda to turn the district into a Chinese sweatshop district, Marty begins a campaign, ostensibly to make his former politician father less disappointed in him.

While the odds seem exceptionally long for Marty, calling Cam out on his non-answer at their first debate gives the outsider some real support. That support is quickly increased when Marty accidentally punches a baby following the debate. As the neck and neck campaign commences, both Marty and Cam try various tactics that further take their campaigns away from the issues and gut their integrity.

The Campaign has some smart issues, but it buries them so far down as to make one think they were more of an afterthought. For example, writers Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell insert the idea that the Motch Brothers run the company that makes the voting machines. This is a very real problem, as made obvious by politics in Ohio. Yet, The Campaign refuses to actually address this serious issue. It appears near the climax of the film as a single, visual joke and it does not quite work as well as it could have because it is not followed up on with anything remotely resembling intelligent discourse.

Such is the real folly of The Campaign; it starts off with decent issues – the corruption of American politics by big business and the importance of people actually joining in the political process – but then ignores them in order to make silly jokes that slowly bleed the film dry. Using Cam to hit a dog late in the film feels less clever than like a motif and the fact that Mitzi goes through with sleeping with him seems unfathomable, despite the fact that the writers do continue to have her character frustratingly mention that she wishes Marty was around more.

The Campaign is seldom about actual character development; it is very predictable on that front and in no way audacious.

Fortunately, the acting in The Campaign is solid. John Lithgow seems professional in a way that I’ve not seen him in other films of late. Far away from the doddering, aging characters, like the one he played in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (reviewed here!) , Lithgow seems like exactly what he is supposed to: a businessman in the prime of his power.

Zach Galifianakis shows a delightfully ridiculous side as Marty Huggins that is different enough from his other fool or ridiculous characters that makes him seem distinctive and worth watching. The best that may be said about Will Ferrell is that he is not simply recapping his usual George W. Bush impersonations as Cam Brady. Ferrell’s character is a smart parody of John Edwards and he plays it well.

Ultimately, The Campaign is fine, but in no way exceptional. It is a fine cap to this year’s political season and worth one viewing, if not purchasing for one’s permanent collection.

For other political comedies, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The American President
American Dreamz
Man Of The Year


For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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