First things first: if you like Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, you'll enjoy The Campaign, in which they play rival North Carolina candidates competing for a congressional seat in the nation's capital. Going in, the big fear was that the movie would essentially be Ferrell's George W. Bush fighting with Alan from The Hangover for 90 minutes, but Cam Brady (Ferrell) and Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) are their own men for the most part. The two stars clearly have comic chemistry together and they each have shining moments that show off their individual brands of humor.
Believe it or not, there's actually a plot written around the jokes, with John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd playing the Motch Brothers, two CEOs trying to find the perfect person to use as a puppet candidate in order to exploit the system. The very fact that the movie was written by Eastbown & Down's Shawn Harwell and Chris Henchy and directed by Jay Roach -- the man behind HBO's Game Change, Meet the Parents and all three Austin Powers movies -- should clue you in on exactly what you're about to see: a film that could have had some interesting cultural criticism about American politics mixed in with some oddball humor... that is, if it wasn't so restrained.
Based on how bizarre Ferrell and Galifianakis usually come off, I was expecting The Campaign to be far less traditional, not just Step Brothers with patriotism. However, no limits were pushed, nothing new was presented and it mostly felt edited for the masses -- or maybe Roach just wanted to make a fun, goofy movie with a feel-good message and a few tight jokes over a whole lot of improv. If that's what he set out to do -- essentially Game Change if it was written by frat boys -- then my biggest complaint is that for all of the zingers and one-liners, the screenplay was not what it could have been. I don't exactly use Judd Apatow movies as the gold standard for comedy, but the lack of actors who could deliver a strong joke becomes quickly apparent. There are many scenes in which The Campaign quickly established the theme or "game" of the joke, but the payoff is just plain underwhelming. And because the movie was so relatively restrained despite having an R rating, scenes where there are big reveals feel clumsily modified or just plain boring. Sure, there's sex, cursing and all that good stuff, but with these two comic superstars, I was expecting some gratuitous male nudity at the very least. I thought this was America, after all.
As for what else works in the movie, credit must go to supporting players Jason Sudeikis and Dylan McDermott, who do a good job balancing out Ferrell and Galifianakis, respectively. Sarah Baker, who played Marty's wife Mitzi, will hopefully get a few roles out of her performance here; she's essentially playing the same person that Melissa McCarthy did in Bridesmaids, only with dignity. What I really want to rave about is Karen Maruyama's role, but given that it's the one part of this movie that caught me off-guard, I won't spoil it. Suffice it to say that if you go in with your expectations low, you'll have a good time. It's gotta be better than following actual American politics, right?
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