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Film Review: The Campaign (2012)

Will Ferrell’s latest comedy The Campaign (2012) comes out at a great time in an important presidential election year.  Viewers hoping for a sharp, intelligent biting satire of contemporary politics will be mildly disappointed – this movie is less concerned with making a statement and more about making the audience laugh.  In that regard, it is a fairly successful comedy with enough laughs to satisfy most of its target audience.  Despite its inherent silliness and several hit or miss jokes, The Campaign is a decent addition to the Ferrell comedic canon, thanks in part to a solid supporting cast.

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North Carolina Democratic Congressman Cam Brady seeks his fifth straight term, which seems like the easiest campaign ever given that he always runs unopposed.  However, after a sexual scandal comes out in the media, corrupt businessmen and brothers Glen and Wade Motch decide Brady needs to be removed.  Therefore, the Motch brothers convince Marty Huggins, the good-hearted but dimwitted “CEO” of the local tourism center and son of Raymond Huggins, a long-time friend and associate of the Motch brothers, to run against Brady.  At first, the naive Huggins is clearly outmatched against Brady’s cynical, been-around-the-block mindset and smear strategies.  But with the help of his devious but effective campaign manager Tim Wattley and the Motch brothers endless funding, Huggins quickly evens the game as he and Brady go face to face, attacking each other at every opportunity, in what turns out to be one of the most important and heated elections in the country.

While there are several parallels to reality, albeit stretched to say the least, The Campaign’s tone is less political and more comedic.  The same old Hollywood views on politics are present here as well, such as the notions that “big business is bad” and most politicians are corrupt (in a multitude of ways).  This is especially prevalent in today’s society, where Huggins’ “It’s a mess!” slogan, referring to Washington D.C., is quite apt, as politicians from Tea Party enthusiasts to liberal idealists, such as Obama, have jumped on the political bandwagon that the old way of politics needs to be reformed in

favor of giving power back to the people and getting back to the Constitution – caveat that the aforementioned groups may or may not have followed through with said platforms (this is not a political tirade review; it is simply pointing out the comparison between the movie and the general political arena).  Nonetheless, the movie does not concentrate on making a political statement beyond the common Hollywood view on politics.  Rather, it focuses on using these themes and takes the inherent craziness of campaign politics to outrageous, chuckle-worthy and occasionally gut-bursting levels.

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As with many comedies, especially of the straight-up Hollywood summer variety, the movie’s success depends in part on whether or not the audience enjoys watching the same old actors play “new” characters in “new” stories.  As a result of this trend, comedies are likely to be divisive amongst audiences unless a particular film stands above the rest or is generally seen as flat or annoying.  In this case, The Campaign manages to rise above its basically conventional plot/structure and the fact that Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are beyond their “fresh” status as comedic actors.  The pairing of these two, as Brady and Huggins, is quite funny (once again, so long as you have not grown completely tired of their shenanigans).  Ferrell is in his “G.W.” mode, mixed with some elitist Ricky Bobby (Talladega Nights), versus the typical dimwitted, lovable loser that Galifianakis often plays.  Consequently, their chemistry in this comedic pairing works pretty well.  In the end, though, both fall back into more conventional, somewhat (and I mean, somewhat) down-to-earth roles in the tidy ending.

On the other hand, the supporting actors get the chance to go all out crazy or full bore in their respective roles, like in most films of any genre but particularly in comedies (i.e. Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder).  Most notably, Dylan McDermott is the highlight of the film as the intense campaign manager Tim Wattley; he is pitch-perfect in the dark, mysterious role and will evoke several fits of laughter in a dark comedy sense.  As his counterpart Mitch, Brady’s long-time friend and campaign manager, Jason Sudeikis plays it more safe and down-to-earth; he is the rational side to Brady, and as such, Sudeikis excels in a refreshingly nice-guy role.  Veteran actors Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow effectively play the devious Motch brothers.  Along with them, Brian Cox adds to the foil mix set against Ferrell’s and Galifianakis’ comedic personas as the straight-faced Raymond Huggins, who is almost always disappointed with Marty.  Sarah Baker and Katherine LaNasa are the housewives Mitzi Huggins and Rose Brady, the former being the supporting wife whereas the latter is a real Lady MacBeth only backing a winner.  Lastly, Karen Maruyama plays off her Asian stereotype as Raymond Huggins’ accent-shifting maid Mrs. Yao, who Raymond pays to use a nineteenth century Southern African-American accent; she is a surprise highlight with several laughs garnered from this trick (though some viewers will find it stale after a few uses).

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Comedy director Jay Roach has crafted an amusing, albeit ridiculous, diversion amidst this year’s glut of political speeches, debates and commentary.  With Ferrell, Galifianakis and a solid supporting core, The Campaign should entertain its target audience and amuse casual moviegoers, so long as they have a sense of slapstick Hollywood humor.  It is not one of the year’s top comedies, thus far, nor is it one of Ferrell’s most memorable or better comedies, but it should still deliver the goods for the most part.  Check it out as a matinee if at all in theaters; otherwise a rental is suitable.

The Campaign – 6.5/10

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