Two of the most recognized comedic actors working right now might seem like a dream come true for fans of each- but what about for people that have grown cold to their shtick? I rarely ever enjoy Will Ferrell and when I do it’s usually in small doses where as I’ve enjoyed most of what Zach Galifianakis has done even though most of his characters fail to differentiate much from role to role. Having the two of them in one movie seem like a potential volatile mix if you are on the fence and yet even with my doubts I had a feeling it could at least be good for a chuckle or two. To my surprise THE CAMPAIGN is not just a throwaway summer comedy and instead is often an uproarious R rated political comedy that embraces its absurdity and repetition, often to a fault.
Will Ferrell plays the very definition of a dirty bad boy politician, Cam Brady, who constantly says inappropriate things either behind closed doors or on a religious family’s answering machine and has an annoying familiar trope of a wife that only stays latched to his wagon as long as he’s successful then bails at any sign of trouble (the exact same thing befalls his character in TALLADEGA NIGHTS). Galifianakis once again plays an ambiguously gay screw up, Marty Huggins, with unflinching optimism (same type of character as in DUE DATE), but this time he’s also actually a devoted family man as well. Huggins is chosen by two sneering big money executives played by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd to oppose Brady as Congressman so that they can then convince Huggins to approve a deal they have made to bring cheap Chinese labor into the country to quadruple profits of their company by cutting down dramatically on shipping and any number of other clichéd bad guy scheming. Huggins and Brady for the most part are unaware of the behind the scenes dealing as they focus on making each other’s lives as miserable as possible with a series of increasingly despicable pranks and bodily harm. Its dirty politics at its funniest and at its most stripped down basics.
Right off the bat the most refreshing thing about THE CAMPAIGN that I initially took out was how great it was that the trailers were vastly different from the final product. So many times I find myself being incredibly let down by comedies that show all the funniest parts in the trailer which then end up consequently being less funny on screen now that you’ve already seen it- unless taking the entire scene into context actually adds to the comedy. Here though not only are some of these scenes from the trailer funnier, they are also completely different from what you see in the trailer- that is to say that the actual lines of dialogue and jokes are different takes that end up being dirtier and funnier than they were in the trailer and certain items used are traded out for something entirely different (I’m referring to a scene in the trailer where Huggins shoots Brady in the leg with a crossbow). It made the film a little less predictable at least when it came to the gags that the two leads inflict upon each other- the overall events of the plot and the ending are all pretty cut and dry, which if not for the nasty back and forth between Ferrell and Galifianakis plus a select few of the supporting actors, this would have been much more of a just standard affair comedy if not a mediocre one.
I really like Ferrell in this movie, more so than Galifianakis which is completely flip flopped from how I went into the film. Ferrell tends to get on my nerves at times, but I like him best when he is at his most vulgar and this is about as vulgar as I’ve ever seen him which cracked me up almost every time his mouth opens. Galifianakis plays his role as he’s become accustomed to by just being mostly aloof and saying odd things here and there, while selling most of his comedy with his awkward body language and facial expressions. One supporting character that stole every scene he was in was Dylan McDermott as Huggins campaign manager Tim Wattley (which kept sending me into Seinfeld flashbacks every time they said his name)- as goofy as Ferrell and Galifianakis are McDermott adds that hilarious grimacing mean guy that you can’t help but smile as soon as he makes his entrance on screen and says something crazy or just stares angrily at the screen in the background while something somewhat heartfelt might be happening in the foreground. Aykroyd and Lithgow are pretty generic bad guy stereotypes that could have been played by almost anyone as is Jason Sudeikis as Brady’s campaign manager, although he does get in a few good lines here and there.
I do think the film has a pretty great cast in spite of the fact some have very little to do to add much to the comedy. There’s a great deal of mean spirited jokes that don’t quite fit with some of the over-the-top goofs on display- I mean how serious can you take a film where someone brutally punches a baby and later show the baby with a massive black eye. There are plenty of ridiculously fun jokes and sequences here that are laugh out loud funny that are hinted at in the trailer and handful that came as a surprise. The problems I had with some of the jokes is that there are at three if not more that get repeated several times throughout- there’s Brady punching something adorable that happens more than once, news montages that follow something horrible a candidate did and the fact that Ferrell’s character just can’t stand pugs. The first time each of these things happen is very funny, the second is chuckle worthy but for some when we get into the third time the repetition seems much more transparent as time filler and that the filmmakers ran out of ideas.
Still, even with an excess of repetition and rehashed character types THE CAMPAIGN is a hysterical political satire. The comedy does at times lean a little too much on the shock of excessively vulgar language to hammer home its laughs, but more often than not the set ups lend favorably to the excessive amount of expletives. THE CAMPAIGN marches out a hefty amount of familiar faces that at times I found distracting and given how weak some the characters are even left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed and disappointed at how great it really could have been. In end though, it may not be the be all end all of perfectly structured comedies of 2012, but it’s still a hell of a good time.