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.