A strong opening leads to a disappointing finish for THE CAMPAIGN.
If there was ever a time that our country should be laughing about the current political system, it should be now. Faced with the lowest approval ratings for our federal elected officials and a growing feeling that recent Supreme Court decisions have allowed powerful interests to control our elections, you would think that a smart, raunchy comedy about politics would be the perfect cure. On the surface, it would seem that The Campaign would serve this interest quite well: however, it fails to plant itself firmly on any comedic ground, existing somewhere between what-could-have been and the little engine that couldn't.
Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell, Megamind) is the unquestioned leader of North Carolina’s 14th District; he says the right things to his constituents (although none of it ever makes sense), has the perfect looking wife and kids (who listen to ghetto rap about female body parts), and sports a perfect coiffure at events. But a recent public sexual disaster leaves him vulnerable to the Motch Brothers (Dan Akroyd and John Lithgow), powerful financial interests who want to bring low-wage Chinese jobs to the district. They decide to run Brady out of office by propping up the patsy Marty Huggins (Zack Galifinanakis,The Hangover). Huggins is not exactly what one might call a winner: frumpy, effeminate, and downright odd, Marty is soon contacted by the Motch’s secret weapon, campaign director Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott, The Practice). Soon, Marty’s fortunes begin to improve (think Extreme Makeover: Election Edition), as he and Brady become mired in a nasty campaign. But when Marty learns of the Motch’s business plans, he must decide whether to sell out his town or take a stand.
The script by Chris Henchy feels like the dull edge of a knife by the third act, reminding audiences of his other failed works, The Other Guys and Land of the Lost. Director Jay Roach (Austin Powers series) can’t seem to coax our leads through an all-too-serious (and frankly dull) final act, which has become a popular but misguided comedic approach. There is always a moment when the lead actors lose the support of their most ardent fans, only to regain their affections sometime before the credits roll. Not only is it an easily recognizable parable, but it also places the audience in a kind of comedic purgatory, forcing them o wonder if they're watching a comedy or a dra-medy. If I didn't know any better, I'd say The Campaign's third act was the victim of a last minute re-write that was hastily pressed into service when the original failed with test audiences. It's not the first time this year we've seen evidence of tampering, but when your final act looks and feels like someone else wrote it, and attracting only a smattering of laughter from the audience for your efforts, it's a sure sign that something was changed. Roach has an excellent cast behind him, including McDermott whose lack of quality Hollywood projects never ceases to amaze me: his deadpan style nearly steals the show, delivering his fair share of one-liners and disappearing almost like an evil spirit into the dark drapes near film’s end. While the film has a surprise ending that's quite unlike most comedies, its effect is lost on an audience that can't wait to leave.
THE CAMPAIGN tries to be a funny, irreverent look at politics in a year that sorely needs it. Unfortunately, it suffers from the most basic premise of running a real election: you have to endear yourself to the audience. At no time does the film ever achieve this, existing more like a series of 30-second political hit-and-run commercials that you instantly forget about once they've aired. Its paltry 85-minute runtime feels more like a two-hour slosh through a tense political campaign than a full-tilt raunch-fest. A film with the talents of Will Ferrell and Zack Galfinakis should have equated to a surefire summer hit – instead, we are left wondering if we just saw a raunchy comedy about politics or a dra-medy about the comedy of politics.
I hate issuing clichés that come from the film I’m reviewing, but in the words of Huggins’ own campaign slogan, “It’s a mess!” THE CAMPAIGN is rated R for brief nudity, language, and sexual situations.
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