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"THE CAMPAIGN"
(2012) (Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: An incumbent politician must contend with the unexpected appearance of a rival who's after his previously safe congressional seat, all of which results in an increasingly nasty political campaign.
PLOT:
Cam Brady (WILL FERRELL) is the four-term Democratic congressional incumbent in North Carolina's 14th district, and he, his wife, Rose (KATHERINE LaNASA), and his campaign manager, Mitch (JASON SUDEIKIS), expect him to win his fifth term due to having no competitor. Little do they know, however, that the brotherly business duo of Glenn Motch (JOHN LITHGOW) and Wade Motch (DAN AYKROYD) need a patsy in Washington who they can control to pass laws in favor of helping increase their profits.

They call rich businessman Raymond Huggins (BRIAN COX) who offers up his adult son, Marty Huggins (ZACH GALIFIANAKIS), for the job. He's an amiable but somewhat goofy tourism employee who's married to Mitzi (SARAH BAKER) and is the father of their two kids. To help whip him into shape, the Motch brothers send in Tim Wattley (DYLAN McDERMOTT) to serve as his ruthless campaign manager and personal makeover agent, and soon the campaign begins.

While Cam easily outdoes Marty at first, the political neophyte quickly gets up to speed. From that point on, and as election day nears, their campaign tactics intensify and become increasingly nasty and mean.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Andy Williams' "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" obviously referred to the days around Christmas, but for the folks at TV's "Saturday Night Live," the best time on the calendar are the weeks leading up to the Presidential election. While they spoof POTUS and other politicians throughout the year through their various caricature-based skits, the election every four years has them pulling out all of the stops to skewer the involved people and processes.

The beauty of that material is two-fold. Considering how ridiculous and over the top real life politics have become, the comedic fodder supply is seemingly endless (something also pointed out -- with better writing -- on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report"). And since each skit last only lasts a few minutes, it's no big deal if it falls flat on its face.

A feature length film attempting the same, however, runs the risk of overstaying its welcome by, oh I don't know, 90 minutes or so if such material doesn't work. Simply put, maintaining the laughs over that many minutes isn't the easiest endeavor, but like many failed political campaigns, many a creative Hollywood type hasn't let that deter them from giving it the old college try.

All of which brings us around to "The Campaign," which, shock of all shocks, is not a reboot of the 1972 Robert Redford political drama of a similar name ("The Candidate"). Instead, it's a "Saturday Night Live" sort of comedy (but not one done by that show's producer, Lorne Michaels) starring one of SNL's biggest former stars, Will Ferrell. No stranger to political comedy, the comedian even took his most famous impression to Broadway in the one-man show "You're Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush."

Here, Ferrell mixes part of those characteristics with some Bill Clinton (and/or any other philandering politician) and forms Cam Brady, a four-term democratic congressman from North Carolina's 14th district. Running unopposed, he's a shoo-in for his fifth term, but is then shocked when a political neophyte (Zach Galifianakis) unexpectedly enters the race as his opponent.

Something of a good-natured simpleton, Marty's been hand-chosen by his rich, politically connected father (Brian Cox) to do the dirty political work of two influential brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) who want some D.C. legislation to help them earn even greater profits. With their campaign managers (Jason Sudeikis and Dylan McDermott) raring to go and their spouses (Katherine LaNasa and Sarah Baker) ready to stand by their respective men, the political candidates start their battle.

As directed by Jay Roach from a script by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, the film has a seemingly endless supply of potential comedy elements at its disposal. And with two gifted comedians in the lead roles, the stage would seem set for some great material to entertain us. Alas, there are too many issues in play that prevent this from being a brilliant satire or even a great comedy. That said, I laughed a great deal more than I thought I ever would have based on the trailer that made this look like yet another dumb Ferrell movie with gags designed for the male adolescent mind (regardless of the age of the body in which that's located).

To be accurate, much of the 85-minute film is just that. And this is yet another example where having the shackles removed under the R rating didn't do the resultant film any favors. Sure, there are all sorts of outlandish bits that couldn't have existed in a PG-13 version and yes, I did find some of them funny or at least amusing. But crudity nearly always stymies creativity and that's the case here, with far too easy laughs taking the place of truly inspired and imaginative writing and performances.

In the latter regard, it doesn't help that the leads are playing yet further continuations of character types they've already popularized (Ferrell's man-child and Galifianakis' take on bewildered but confident simpleton types). While that might appease fans of their previous performances, I know these two have greater depth and could have done so much more with their characters.

The same holds true for the writers regarding their look at political corruption, be that on the personal level (and what it does to the initially naive candidate and his family) or that of big business buying its way into such campaigns (the Aykroyd and Lithgow material runs out of steam fast, unlike the somewhat similar characters played by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche in "Trading Places").

As a result, and despite some decent laughs scattered here and there, the film begins to drag and feels long despite its somewhat abnormally short running time. Since everyday people are increasingly becoming fed up with politics, politicians and especially presidential campaigns that run for months and sling so much mud that even a pig would be offended, it's hard to say whether viewers will embrace the film and its attempted skewering of the material or if they'll vote for an entirely different sort of movie. Only time will tell, but I can safely say that without some serious reform, I'm not exactly looking forward to a second term of "The Campaign." The film rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed August 7, 2012 / Posted August 10, 2012


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