This political comedy is by-the-manual Will Ferrell-based funny fodder, and it just about stretches thin material to feature length.
Will Ferrell Movie: The Formula.
1) Pick a random subject out of an eternally self-replenishing tombola of unglued miscellany – ice-skating, motor racing, basketball, chicken sexing, whatever. 2) Choose an agreeably hairy/nerdy/troll-like character actor to play his nemesis. 3) Balance out the abundance of genuinely smart, funny or original ideas in the script with crass, indulgent, tired mugging. 4) Cap an hour of spirited horseplay with 30 minutes of undercooked action or overegged histrionics. 5) Repeat. About three times a year.
This time the subject is US campaign politics, the adversarial comedy hobgoblin is Zach Galifianakis, the smart satire offset by an outbreak of baby-punching and the film closes out with a long slide into broad, tit-for-tat slapstick. Textbook stuff, to be sure, but just as with most of Ferrell’s output, the plusses of The Campaign outstrip the negatives. It’s not a landslide victory by any means, but it’s an adequately comfortable margin.
Ferrell is Cam Brady, five-term Democrat Congressman for North Carolina, and a shoo-in for a sixth. Cam’s a good ol’ boy. He likes a drink, screws around and is so given to gaffes and malapropisms that his staff only wakes him up for the really important meetings. After scandalous public revelations that one of his sordid late-night booty calls wound up on the wrong answerphone, Cam’s ultra-wealthy Republican rivals smell blood in the water and enter their own candidate into the race.
The Republican nominee, Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), is Cam’s polar opposite: Prissy, homely, besotted with his family and steadfastly moral. Marty’s a sweet and decent guy, but it is obvious his precipitous slide into the complicit, sidewinding snakepit of modern American politics is assured from the moment he enters his name onto the ballot.
The film sets up an ironclad framework upon which to construct a crazy paving of comic one-upmanship, while simultaneously offering a sturdy platform to poke fun at campaign politics, media manipulation and the vast malfunctioning corporation that is the United States of America. And when it works, it works, with a goodly amount of the satiric sideswipes connecting and the intensifying roundelay of slurs and dirty tricks corkscrewing the narrative upwards and onwards.
But the writing and direction are too patchy and lazy to sustain the quality. Any poise the early sections held is undone as the film lollops into wide-open gross-out territory, where it basks in the twin suns of predictability and ‘outrageousness’. Little of the care and attention that went into the full-bore race-day fury of Talladega Nights or the polyester production design of Anchorman – surely two of Ferrell’s better films – has been weaved into the comedy here.
There are laughs to be had with The Campaign, but with a little more effort and discipline it could easily have been an awful lot better. Ferrell and co have the talent and opportunity to serve up a controlled, darkly comic morality play that could well have joined such double-dealing, spite-fuelled classics as The War of the Roses or Barry Levinson’s Tin Men at the very top table of cinematic brinksmanship, but they go for the soft option and the easy yuks all too readily.
All sounds a bit déjà vu. Didn’t they make this in the late-‘90s with Chris Farley and David Spade?
A hung parliament. One side of the house is all witty barbs and arch character asides, the other a shouty, corpulent rabble.
All sounds a bit déjà vu. Didn’t they make this in the late-'90s with Chris Farley and David Spade?