Campaign, The (2012)

Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, Brian Cox, Katherine LaNasa, Sarah Baker, Karen Maruyama, Jack McBrayer, Elizabeth Wells Berkes, Grant Goodman, Kya Haywood.

Director: Jay Roach
Rating: R (for crude sexual content, language and brief nudity.)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Date: August 10, 2012
Home Video Release Date: TBD
North American Box Office: $64.6 Million

Everyman Pictures, Gary Sanchez Productions, and Warner Bros. Pictures.

Written by: Shawn Harwell and Chris Henchy.

★★ (out of 5 stars)

With a fertile landscape of politicos and known individuals to target, The Campaign deals with just enough ambiguity in its raunchy, gaudy, and over-the-top satire on American politics, that you are left wondering if the characters played by Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are modeled after anyone at all.  Watching Will Ferrell’s look, mannerisms, and careless and voracious sexual appetite, one may wonder if Ferrell is styling his character after a perfectly coiffed, disgraced former two-time presidential candidate from the same home state of North Carolina.  Beyond that John Edwards comparison, Galifianakis’ Marty Huggins is more Corky St. Clair (Christopher Guest’s hilarious character from ‘Waiting For Guffman’) then any politician I could put tabs on.  Although come to think of it, his effete characteristics may be a jab at the homosexual-related scandals that have rocked the Republican party in recent years.

But all of this conjecture is silly because at the end of the day, The Campaign discards its perceived Democrats vs. Republicans approach and just goes for laughs.  Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a vile and contemptible man, who is gearing up for an unopposed fifth term as a Hammond, North Carolina state senator.  His campaign manager, Mitch (Jason Sudeikis), seems to handle Brady’s frequent gaffes and indiscretions with a fairly mild-mannered demeanor, but both he and Cam are caught off guard when Marty Huggins files for his candidacy literally seconds prior to the deadline tolling on applying for public office.  Unbeknownst to Cam and Mitch, Huggins is the hand-picked selection of the wealthy Molch Brothers, Wade and Glen (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow).

Stylized after the real-life Republican party backers the Koch Brothers, Aykroyd and Lithgow’s Motch Brothers are less party-affiliated and more just financially driven in supporting whoever can return the most bang for their buck.  Until now, that has been Cam and once a ridiculously vulgar voice mail message places Cam in a national sex scandal, the Motch Brothers turn to Marty, a fledgling tourism director and the son of former Republican bigwig Raymond Huggins (Brian Cox).  Their plan is simple – run a buffoon who cannot only be molded into something of a candidate, but to mindlessly perpetuate the Motch Brothers agenda.  When veteran campaign strategist Tim Wattley (Dermot Mulroney) is hired to mold Marty into a winning candidate, Brady and Huggins engage in a cutthroat and escalatingly absurd campaign, as they clamor to win the coveted senatorial seat in North Carolina’s 14th District.

As gregarious and over-the-top as you might anticipate, The Campaign is a funny, sometimes uproarious and satirical take on American politics.  To define it as anything more than that is inaccurate because even as it dabbles in the firestorms of a Presidential election cycle, there is next to nothing profound to be said here.  And allow me to add – that is completely alright with me.

For some, watching Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis go after each other for 85 minutes may prove exhausting. And while the film does wheeze and become rather tiresome in its third act, there are great number of moments that score, especially early on in the film.  Watching Will Ferrell create the reprehensible Cam Brady persona seems almost too easy for Ferrell to pull off.  With a long and rich history of playing unsavory characters, Ferrell seems at ease with the R rating for The Campaign, diving feet first into his character’s disgusting and irresponsible demeanor. 

For me, a large amount of the laughter comes in watching Galifianakis dissolve into Marty Huggins.  The veteran comedic actor has always embodied odd and bizarre characters with an infectious zeal, but his Huggins is a strange and curious little fellow.  He is almost unabashedly proud of his naivete and yet is able to stay toe-to-toe with Cam Brady at every turn.  As funny as Ferrell is, Galifianakis clearly steals the show.  Together however, there are some truly inspired exchanges between these two talented comedic minds which had to have induced incessant laughter on the set.

Like most comedies that have an eye for something bigger and more important, The Campaign awkwardly tries to put some meaning behind the story.  Not surprisingly, this is where the film begins to lose its guts and guile.  Feeling rather bloated already at 85 minutes, the hint of mawkishness nearly derails the throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach which precedes it.

The Campaign is strictly in the moment entertainment and the memory of the film fades a bit once you walk out of the theater.  And yet, like the political season it finds itself mocking, as the jokes and absurdity spiral out in front of you, you cannot help but find something to laugh at.  Some will find this all too much, some will love every second, I just wanted to be entertained.  The Campaign delivers plenty of entertaining segments in a simple majority of those 85 minutes and Galifianakis’ performance in particular makes The Campaign a vote worth considering.

  • Ferrell and Galifianakis go for it, with the comforts of an R-rating and encouraged improvisation to the utmost degree, The Campaign is often amusing and funny, and in certain moments flat out hilarious.  Cannot wait for that Blu-Ray/DVD blooper reel.
  • Fans of HBO series Eastbound & Down will see similar rhythms in the comedy here as the film is co-written by the head writer of that series, Shawn Harwell.
  • While it plays around with deeper political themes, The Campaign is refreshingly not caught up in a Democrats vs. Republican war or slant.  Both sides deservedly get skewered.
  • The vulgar tone, especially with Ferrell’s character, may be just too much for some fans of the actor.  If you cannot handle raunchy adult humor, stay far, far away from this Campaign.
  • When the movie starts to run out of things to do and say and takes a turn for sentimentality, The Campaign feels elongated at just 85 minutes.  In some ways, this resembles a really good Saturday Night Live sketch that overstays its welcome just a bit too long.
  • If you are not a fan of Ferrell, Galifianakis, or their films prior to this one, nothing here will change your mind.  In fact, the characters are so off-putting and over-the-top, you may end up disliking the actors more afterwards than when you started.

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