Friday, August 10, 2012
Movie review: The Campaign
If only real-life campaigns were this entertaining.
At their best, Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are two of the funniest men working in film today. The problem is that the material they often choose doesn't live up to their respective talents. Pitting them literally mano a mano in The Campaign is an appealing notion, but only if the filmmakers understand the weapons they have at their disposal and use them to their full potential.
Luckily, director Jay Roach (Dinner for Schmucks) and writers Chris Henchy (Land of the Lost) and Shawn Harwell (TV's Eastbound & Down) do just that. In The Campaign, Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a longtime North Carolina Congressman who's gotten a little too comfortable in his position, running unopposed every election cycle. Two big money tycoons, the Motch brothers (Dan Ackroyd and John Lithgow), use their power and influence to get a political nobody, Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), to run against him at the last second.
To say Brady is full of himself is to put it lightly. Brady is so self-assured that he flaunts things such as fraud and infidelity openly, knowing that Huggins is no threat. And why should he be? With no previous political experience, a reputation for not being the smartest tool in the shed, and a demeanor that comes off as odd even to fellow weirdos, Huggins seems to stand no chance against the slick Brady. But with the Motch brothers and Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott), a ruthless campaign manager, backing Huggins, Brady is in for the fight of his life.
The key to The Campaign's success, aside from the inspired performances from Ferrell, Galifianakis, and the rest of the cast, is that the filmmakers keep the plot grounded in just enough reality so that the absurdity they present doesn't feel completely over-the-top. Plenty of politicians show the hubris that Brady displays, and so even though he goes far and beyond what anybody would consider to be appropriate behavior, it's easy to see what got him to that point. The lengths that the Motch brothers go to try and control the race would seem ridiculous were it not clear that big money already controls much of the real world politics. And throwing in somebody like Huggins at the last minute -- well, I'll give them a little leeway on that one, mostly because of the laughs that his presence generates.
Simply put, Ferrell and Galifianakis have never been better. The way they play off one another is a sight to behold and you can tell that each of them motivated the other to elevate his game. Even though their roles could be called playing to their strengths, they still have to deliver the goods, and they do so in style. Jason Sudeikis, so good on Saturday Night Live and in recent supporting film roles, is great as Brady's campaign manager. McDermott, normally known for his dramatic roles, uses that persona to fantastic comic effect here. And I'm happy to see Ackroyd back in a memorable role again -- it's been far too long since that happened.
With the campaign between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney about to kick into high gear, The Campaign has the luck of good timing. With all the negativity that real-life campaign engenders, people will be looking for some relief, and this movie is the perfect antidote.
For showtimes for The Campaign, click here.