The Campaign (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
31Oct/120

The Campaign (2012)

"I know he can do better."  That thought repeated in my head over just about every scene of The Campaign, even the ones that were effective.  Will Ferrell can do a better clueless politician without all of the elongated vocal tics.  Zach Galifanakis can be funnier if directors weren't asking him to crank up the country-boy caricature all of the time.  Then there's director Jay Roach, who has done significantly better movies (the first Austin Powers) and even other politically based films that were both on-target with a message and very entertaining (Recount).

I'm sad I didn't get to say "I know she can do better" or at least throw in a nice gender-neutral "they" but I suppose politics is still pretty much a boys-only club.

The problem with The Campaign is that it allows everyone to paint in the broadest brush possible.  In the case of the leads it allows them both to engage in the kind of performances I've seen from them numerous times in more effective films.  This makes me wonder why they're not better, but instead reminding me just how far they can fall.  Since Roach has two Austin Powers sequels of questionable quality for under his belt I would hope that he'd have learned the lessons of taking the occasional high road but that's clearly not always the case.

Some of the visual details are good for a laugh, like Chairman Pug here.

The Campaign isn't aiming for any sort of high satire despite the awkward jabs at a recent Supreme Court ruling.  It's just trying to be a broadly funny as possible, pitting the sex-crazed Democrat, Cam Brady (Ferrell), against the Republican black sheep of a powerful family of politicians, Marty Huggins (Galifanakis.)  You'll get exactly what you expect out of the characters with those descriptions and fit the now standard cliches that one side has learned to force themselves to see about the other.

It won't come as any surprise that the Democrat will be involved in a sex scandal and nothing is really done to make it funny.  Nor will it really come as any surprise that the Republican is mired in a web of unofficial corporate sponsorship and puppetry.  Both are painted in the most obvious targets possible and the jokes follow suit with the rare detail that is really funny.  I liked that Cam blasts Heart from his car (a bleeding heart liberal - I confess a weakness for visual / audio puns like this) and the odder details of Marty's home-life with his purportedly Communist pugs.

The film has no visual style other than to point the camera and film people doing wacky things.  Now into year fifteenth year of his direction career I was hoping that Roach would have developed something approaching a style, but even the workmanlike action movie style of someone like Bret Ratner seems beyond his grasp.  As I mentioned, Roach has made a couple of great films, but are more predicated on the performances and the editing than anything else.  Here so many jokes fall flat because the energy and timing doesn't match the craziness, sadly typical at this point, of the two political parties.

All of the campaign ads are good for a smile or light chuckle and are the only good stabs at absurdity in the film.

The most disappointing and indicative of this timing issue are the scenes involving the corporate conspirators played by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow.  Aykroyd is no stranger to weird comedies and Lithgow obviously has some crazy energy stored up, but both of them are completely wasted.  The camera points at them, one says something vaguely evil, the other may or may not chuckle, then the shot cuts away.  Neither one of them is given the slightest opportunity to work at the energy level of the leads and don't even have material worth playing up.

The only aspect of the film that works, and incredibly well, is Dylan McDermott's performance.  He seems borrowed wholesale from a darker, nervier film unafraid to paint politics with some real issues instead.  Tim Wattley (McDermott), assigned to spruce up Marty's image for the race, enters and exits each scene like an energetic vulture.  McDermott plays it to the hilt, angrily defending his drunken suggestions for decor and behaving like the perfect dark angel for Marty.  The best scenes are built around McDermott's energy and surprisingly fierce presence, acting like the specter of political reality as a comic force.

So The Campaign is good for a few chuckles, but that's it.  I wouldn't expect us to play hardball with politics at this point in our history, but I suppose that's how it's been in 2012.  I'm just happy it wasn't another Obama documentary.  It's at least some kind of blessing.

The Campaign (2012)
Directed by Jay Roach.
Screenplay written by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell.
Starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifanakis.

Posted by Andrew

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