by Steve Habrat
Finally, a summer comedy worth laughing hard about! Funnyguys Will Farrell and Zach Galifianakis team up for a short but (really) sweet political satire in The Campaign, cleverly released just three short months before the presidential election, right in the thick of battle for the White House. Pitting these two buffoons against each other is comedic gold and under the direction of Jay Roach, the film manages to have a soft side that really made me fall for it despite the consistent string of jaw dropping obscenities and playground tomfoolery. A step in the right direction for both of these titans of comedy, The Campaign refuses to play dumb like the two candidates duking it out at the heart of the film. As Roach guides things along, The Campaign evolves into a witty prod of the absurdities of a political race, at times feeling a little too real despite the all the childish behavior. The Campaign also comes as a major relief because it was released just in the nick of time to make up for the sorry state of funnies in 2012. Any film that has a tiny baby taking one in the kisser by Mr. Farrell runs off with my vote.
After leaving a sexually explicit message on an innocent family’s answering machine, long-term democratic Congressman Cam Brady (Played by Will Farrell) finds himself in hot water with the public. Since his careless slip has occurred right before the upcoming election, two wealthy and corrupt CEOs (Played by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) see a way to finally push clueless Cam out of office and use the election as part of a plan to profit from shady deals that they have made with the Chinese. They set their sights on the equally clueless Marty Huggins (Played by Zach Galifianakis), the sensitive tourism director for their small town. Backed by a no-nonsense campaign manager named Tim Wattley (Played by Dylan McDermott), the conservative Marty has to get aggressive against the ruthless Brady fast in order to win over the public’s vote. Things start out civil but take a turn for the disastrous when the two candidates cross paths, locking them in a never ending game of tug of war that finds them resorting to childish tricks and putdowns to win the election. May the best comedian win!
While it is business as usual for both Farrell and Galifianakis, it is business that is right at home in The Campaign. Here, Farrell is great as an idiotic man-child who doesn’t seem to understand the severity of his behavior and Galifiankis is on point with his lisping naivety that just never clicked for me in The Hangover. You’ll feel for poor Marty when he first meets with cold-hearted Cam at a brunch that finds Cam going for the throat of his opponent. The jabs are hysterical, one of the best coming from Cam who accuses Marty of being a communist because he owns (and adores) two pugs. When Marty realizes that the gloves need to come off and the brass knuckles need to be put on, the sweet natured Marty dishes out his fair share of insults. While we expect this abrasive behavior from Cam, it begins to be a bit painful to see Marty resorting to the same style of politics. Marty becomes almost monstrous in his attacks at Cam, the lowest being his accusations that Cam is a lousy father (you have to see it to believe it). Roach and his screenwriters, Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, avoid repetition by revealing the emotional bruises that are left by each insult hurled, something I was pleasantly surprised with. It really allows The Campaign to have it both ways, raunchy gonzo comedy for those looking for an escapist laugh and substantial satire for those who like their chuckles with a side of intellect.
While the big name leads keep things spunky for the eighty-five minute runtime, the supporting comics all have their moments too. It was nice to see Lithgow and Aykroyd really playing it up as two slimy suits that warn that money and big business control the election. It is said with a wink in all the theatrical madness but it coldly cuts through you to the point where you half suspect your vote doesn’t make a bit of difference in the real world. Brian Cox as Marty’s disappointed father who enjoys cocaine and multiple afternoon cocktails was also a welcome presence even if he does spend much of the film exasperated with Marty. McDermott almost steals the show with his domineering Tim, the campaign manager from Hell. When he steps on the scene and begins tinkering with Marty’s life, things really get fun. He overshadows the rather forgettable Jason Sudeikis as Mitch, Cam’s close friend and campaign manager. I’ve never been particularly smitten with his brand of comedy and he didn’t really do anything out of the ordinary to really win me over here. Katherine LaNasa has strong presence as Cam’s fiendish wife Rose, who gladly accepts big checks to stick by her unfaithful man. Rounding out the supporters is Sarah Baker as Marty’s bashful wife Mitzi, a gal who weakens in the knees for both Drew Carrey and Cam. 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer also stops by in a small cameo that ends up being one of the funniest sequences in the entire film. I’d love to see him get his own project one day but I have a gut feeling that too much of him could be a bad thing.
After the disappointing Dictator, the revolting That’s My Boy, lumpy Ted, and lackluster Watch, The Campaign is an absolutely glowing adult comedy despite the handful of flaws that can be found throughout. There are a few points where Farrell flies wildly off the rails, taking things further than he needed to and killing the moment. It happens only a few times and you quickly forget about it. Farrell’s problem is that he gets on a role and begins to run the joke into the ground but I guess it comes with adlibbing. There is more emphasis put on him in the middle section of the film while Galifianakis twiddles his thumbs in the corner and patiently waits for his turn. I’d say that Galifianakis gets the upper hand through a good majority of The Campaign but Farrell is always a very close second, eager to not be completely outdone. It just boils down to range and there is no question that Galifianakis has Farrell there. I also found the side plot involving those slippery CEOs to be thinly written and completely overlooked during the middle of the film. I can confidently say that you have not seen all the funniest moments in the laugh-out-loud trailer that has been running all summer long and there will be more than a few jokes that linger once the film has left the theater. Overall, The Campaign has more than a few surprises up its sleeve and the fact that it actually sends you away thinking is a major positive. You won’t simply be swapping your favorite one-liners with your buddies and wiping away tears of laughter from Farrell’s baby punch heard round the world.