The Campaign

August 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis
Directed by: Jay Roach (“Austin Powers,” “Meet the Parents”)
Written by: Chris Henchy (“The Other Guys”) and Shawn Harwell (debut)

Let’s face it: Will Ferrell’s comedies consist of little more than skeletons of plot strung together with stretches of the actor and his co-stars hilariously improvising. Yeah, you might remember that “Anchorman” had a running plot thread featuring the birth of a panda at the San Diego Zoo or that “Step Brothers” wrapped up at the helicopter expo known as the Catalina Wine Mixer, but the things that are stuck in your head are the Channel 4 News Team’s discussing a man’s death by trident or two grown men’s creepy, child-like glee at the thought of getting bunk beds, thus freeing up floor space in their shared bedroom for so many more activities.

The trend continues in “The Campaign.” Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a Democratic Congressman from North Carolina with John Edwards’ hair and Bill Clinton’s libido. Brady coasts through Congress with one goal and one goal only: being Vice President. Okay, two goals: being Vice President and having lots and lots of extramarital sex with perky young supporters. When a sex scandal inevitably rocks Brady’s reelection campaign, unscrupulous billionaire businessmen the Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) hand pick a candidate to take Brady down and further their own interests: naive local tour guide Marty Huggins, played by Zach Galifianakis.

Pitting two comedic heavyweights like Ferrell and Galifiankis against one another pays off in predictably humorous fashion. Ferrell, turning years of parodying George W. Bush on its ear, once again gives his all to the sharp, sleazy Cam Brady while Galifianakis steps away from the semi-dangerous weirdo characters that made him famous and instead plays Marty Huggins as a sweet, simple man forced to adapt after being thrust into the cutthroat world of corporate-backed politics. The film, however, would’ve worked better if director Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents”) would have given in more to the absurdity and less to the half-hearted political sentimentality.

Roach, best known for comedies like the “Austin Powers” series, recently dove head-first into political statement filmmaking with a pair of HBO movies: the solid “Recount” and the so-so “Game Change.” Perhaps “The Campaign” represented a happy medium to him, but the focus on heavy political issues (loss of jobs to China, evil corporate influence on elections) in the third act derail the comedy just as it starts to get sublimely whacked-out. If you’ve watched the trailers and commercials (or even early cuts of the movie) closely, you’ll notice how many jokes didn’t make it into the final film. While this practice is common in Hollywood, it’s disappointing that it seems to have been done in service to trite political statements like Congress needs people who care or that corporate agendas are ruining America.

Like a rider for a bridge to nowhere tacked on to a health care bill, the too-serious political mumbo-jumbo is annoying, but not annoying enough to sour the whole deal. Ultimately “The Campaign” delivers what is promises: big laughs.

Dinner for Schmucks

July 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by: Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents”)
Written by: David Guion (“The Ex”) and Michael Handelman (“The Ex”)

It would have been torturous enough if the movie “Dinner for Schmucks” had remained truthful to its title and only forced us to sit through a single meal and maybe a couple of drinks. Instead, director Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents,” “Austin Powers” trilogy) extends the idiot-filled evening into a collection of unbearably tacky scenarios that might have worked better as an episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Sure, it’s obvious certain things need to lead up to a dinner with a bunch of sad-sack morons, but what Roach and screenwriting partners David Guion and Michael Handelman (“The Ex”) come up with makes the hilariously daft “Dumb and Dumber” feel like a thinking-man’s movie.

Cast in the least of these cartoonish roles is Paul Rudd. Rudd plays Tim, a bottom-feeding analyst in the corporate world who sees an opportunity to climb the totem pole when his company fires one of their top executives. When Tim makes an impression on his boss Lance (Bruce Greenwood) by introducing the company to a potential billionaire client, Tim is invited to attend a top secret dinner held every month for the company big wigs.

At these dinners, executives are asked to bring the strangest guest they can find so he or she can be insulted throughout the night. While the idea goes against Tim’s strict moral code, he decides he can’t pass up a chance at a promotion especially now that his girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) is at the brink of finally accepting his marriage proposal. When she finds out about the dinner, however, she isn’t pleased.

The schmuck himself comes in the form of Barry (Steve Carell), a normal-enough looking guy whose remarkable qualities come from his taxidermy work. Basically, Barry stuffs dead mice, dresses them in costumes, and places them into dioramas for display. Barry calls his creations “mousterpieces.” Although Tim finds his odd hobby disgusting, he also sees it as a way to impress the execs and invites Barry to his dinner for dummies in hopes of landing a corner office.

Barry, however, misunderstands dinner plans and shows up at Tim’s apartment a day early. This is where the botched comedy of manners begins as Barry manages to muddle up Tim’s life in less than 24 hours. He starts by inviting Tim’s psycho one-night-stand to his apartment and continues by talking Tim into thinking Julie is cheating on him with a ridiculous artist (Jemaine Clement of TV’s “Flight of the Conchords”). Who knew schmucks could be so influential?

Like Jim Carrey’s Lloyd Christmas and Jeff Daniel’s Harry Dunne in “Dumb and Dumber,” Barry lacks an awareness of his idiocy, but does so less convincingly. In “Dumbe,r” when Harry thinks Aspen is located in California, it’s funny. In “Schmucks,” when Barry drags out a joke about believing Tim invented the saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” it’s not. Even if someone could be that clueless, “Schmucks” begs us to have sympathy for these characters and learn something from the mean-spirited narrative.

At times unbearable to watch, “Dinner for Schmucks” is disguised as a movie with profound life lessons about friendship and acceptance. If you really get swindled into believing this comedy has heart, please raise your hand. There’s this dinner I’d like to invite you to.