Opening today at nearly every multiplex in Raleigh and the Triangle area:
THE CAMPAIGN (Dir. Jay Roach, 2012)
With Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis pitted against each other as political rivals, you’re bound to get at least a few big laughs, right?
Hell, with the state of comedy movies these days I’d settle for a steady series of mild chuckles, which means I’m settling with THE CAMPAIGN.
Set in my home state of North Carolina, but filmed in Louisiana, this film features Ferrell as a vulgar, womanizing, full-of-BS incumbent congressman from the fictitious 14th District of N.C. who is surprised to be challenged by an effeminate, sweater-clad, pug-loving small-town tour guide (obviously Galifianakis).
SNL’s Jason Sudeikis is Ferrell’s level-headed campaign manager who can’t control his candidate (“What are you pointing at? A book of bad ideas?”), while Galifianakis is assigned Dylan McDermott (who seems to be channeling Richard Gere’s slick beyond belief character in POWER), to be his ruthless advisor.
Dirt is flung, reputations are smeared, and a baby is punched in the face - in slow motion, no less. Through all the debates and negative ads, the comedy stays at the same level of amusing, no unexpected gags or overly hilarious lines; just two funnymen fulfilling their base quota of funny.
I giggled a lot more at Galifianakis than I did Ferrell, as Ferrell is his all too typical dumbass with a hidden heart archetype, and although Galifianakis’ character could be seen as just a slight variation on his DUE DATE shtick, he still made me laugh more.
Political satire is very hard to pull off, which is probably why screenwriters Chris Henchy andShawn Harwell (with story help from long-time Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay, who also co-produced) didn’t even try to go very deep with this material. They kept away from actual commentary or pointed digs at our current political process, and went with the cheap goofball angle. Which is fine, but the real election year shenanigins we're going through now is much funnier than this.
Only in the case of two power-mad election-buying brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd), who are behind Galifianakis’ run for office so they can in-source factory workers from China, do they come close to anything hard-hitting, but they don’t go very far with that either.
When one of the funniest things in your movie is Karen Maruyama as an Asian maid who is paid extra by Galifianakis’ father (an uncomfortable-looking Brian Cox) to talk like a Southern mammy, it’s heavily apparent that sharp political parody isn’t really your goal.