Friday, August 17, 2012

Left Hanging with Chad

We're past the halfway point for 2012, and approaching he zenith of an exceedingly divisive election season that has called out practically every hot-button topic that exists in its progression. Whether you identify as a Republican, Democrat, or "Other", you have to wonder whether this is the absolute best or absolute worst time for the west coast to send us an R-rated election-themed comedy, and one headlined by two of the more frenetic comedians in movies today to boot.

To be blunt, I'm not that big a fan of the leads in The Campaign. While I did like Zach Galifianakis in the Hangover series, I haven't seen much else, and I'm still not sure the actor can do much more than be an amusing co-star. And while Will Ferrell has had his moments, I cannot say that I find him funny more often than not. A GOOD film with these two would perfectly satirize the electoral process while giving us great laughs in the meantime. A BAD film would be full of scatological "humor", nonsensical leaps of logic and be a complete mockery of the US political system. Hmm, one of the screenwriters co-wrote The Other Guys, but he also wrote Land of the Lost. And the director is Jay Roach, of Austin Powers and Meet the Fockers fame. Things aren't looking good...

It's like I'm watching a John Edwards documentary...
That The Campaign does manage to eek out its fair share of laughs is probably the biggest surprise in this whole show. When Democratic North Carolina Congressman Cam Brady's (Ferrell) campaign for his unopposed fifth term in office is derailed by a scandal, he opens the field to Republican candidate Marty Huggins (Galifianakis). Huggins, an everyman small-town tour guide, has been approached and supported by corporate honchos intent on removing the "embarrassing" Brady from office. What follows is a massive battle, as Brady is as determined to retain the perks that come with his appointment as Huggins is to help the people of his district.

Not quite sure which one could eat the other...
The film is at least partially a commentary on the dirty side of politics, covering everything from smear campaigns, super PACs, negative advertising, and kicking the other guy whenever the opportunity arises. As the battle goes back and forth between Brady and Huggins, it's easy to re-imagine the situation featuring your local leaders. The film even does a fine job of satire in showing the seeming willingness of the loyal voters who more often than not seek inspiring quotes and buzz words over actual job performance. The candidates are shown to be fully aware of this, never promising anything beyond vague positives while pretending they're everybody's best friend. In truth, neither candidate is portrayed as either good or bad; Brady is a jaded career politician who early in his career had actually hoped to help change things, while Huggins wants to fix things now, but is in the pocket of big business.

And this is why you never see candidates near one another besides debates.
Of course, the filmmakers' efforts at satire cross the line a BIT too much, and while there are a few times when it creates the perfectly hilarious moment (as when Brady famously punches that baby in slo-mo), most of the time the result is more uncomfortable than actually being funny. Many of the actions characters take (and the public's response to them) are so flagrantly bizarre that it practically declares the election process a farce. That said, I wonder if there is anyone out there who thinks that the Brady/Huggins campaign looks like business as usual in their district. Suffice it to say, Roach seems to plaster the idea that every politician, no matter their intent, will eventually forget all about the people they're supposed to be representing. It might have seemed like a more humorous idea when written down on paper, but considering how seriously people take politics these days, it might have come off as darker than originally intended.

Don't let this man ever run your political career.
Farrell and Galifianakis are at their best pretty funny, but neither stretches from their standard creative zones here. Farrell is doing his George W. Bush SNL impression throughout the entire film, even using the exact same accent (as though all southerners sound exactly the same). And Galifianakis' relative lack of facial hair doesn't cover up the fact that his sub-intelligent character demeanor is in full effect. Fortunately, the leads have a good enough support cast to keep things interesting, from Jason Sudeikis as Brady's straight-arrow campaign manager to Dylan McDermott as a psycho hired to make Huggins "not suck so much." Dan Ackroyd and John Lithgow are decent as the big business Motch Brothers (a play on the real life Koch Brothers), but don't really get enough to do. And while I wish the film had found a bigger role for Jack McBrayer, they perfectly cast veteran scene-chewer Brian Cox as Huggins' disapproving father.

He looks like something on To Catch a Predator.
I was never all that high on the idea of The Campaign, and the final product pretty much proved my initial beliefs. There are some laughs, and the film as a whole will be more fondly remembered than such fare as The Dictator, or the absolute crap-fest that was last year's Bad Teacher. But while you might get some laughs out of The Campaign's script, this is a title that cannot find that perfect satirical balance. Different leads, or perhaps even better writing, could have made this more than just another mediocre comedic outing, but there's really no reason that justifies seeing this film in the theater. It'll be on DVD before this fall's elections, most likely, and if you're that hard up for a Will Ferrell comedy, there are a few excellent options available (like Stranger Than Fiction or The Other Guys) for rental instead. This won't be one of them.

1 comment:

justin hickey said...

Zack is awesome in Bored to Death and Tim & Eric!