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Political Season is Nigh

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The Campaign
Starring Will Ferrell, Zach
Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis

POSTER PERFECT: Galifianakis and Ferrell go head to head on the comedic stomping ground of “The Campaign.” Courtesy photos

Readers of encoreknow I’m in the bag for Will Ferrell. I think he’s the funniest guy working today and will show up to any movie he’s in, no questions asked. So buying a ticket to his new political-themed comedy, “The Campaign,” was a foregone conclusion. Ferrell films aren’t always perfect. Every so often he delivers something hard to digest, like “Land of the Lost” or the Spanish-subtitled “Casa de mi Padre.” More often than not he produces a funny, bizarre movie.

For me, every Will Ferrell comedy gets graded on “The Anchorman” scale, as in “Is it better than ‘Anchorman’?” Sadly, the answer is “no.” Still, “The Campaign” is pretty damn funny.

Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a North Carolina congressman who has run unopposed for four straight terms. He’s a typical entrenched career politician: greedy, corrupt, and prone to sleeping with any hot piece of ass that comes into his line of sight. He’s all cock and balls, reveling in his role as alpha male of the 14th district. Eventually, he becomes a little too big for his britches, and a sex scandal threatens his approval ratings. That’s when Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) steps into the race.

Marty is Cam’s polar opposite: a short, round, odd little man whose perpetual smile and unbridled enthusiasm tends to rub people the wrong way. He’s a small man with a big heart and a lot to prove. At first, he’s laughed off by the media. But soon he gets some corporate backers looking to oust Cam. Thereafter, his homespun charm, combined with a devious campaign manager, leads to a tight race.

Cam finds himself in unfamiliar territory. He’s never had to fight for anything; he’s coasted by for eight years on charm and zero competition. It brings out the worst in both men as they roll their sleeves up and begin to get their hands dirty. Cam is very comfortable with these tactics. He has no problem slinging mud and tap-dancing around the real issues. Marty’s transformation is slower and more methodical. The campaign changes him from neighborhood nice-guy to cheap-shot artist.

The movie plays very much to each of their strengths. Ferrell gets to spend 90 minutes playing the middle-aged frat-boy persona he has mastered. Galifinakis gets to play the Southern effete with hilarious affectations.
For a solid hour, the film maintains a ridiculous rapid-fire comedic pace. There’s a lot of laughs from a lot of different scenarios. There’s a proper amount of asurdity which parallels our current political landscape: Cam’s aforementioned affair with a mistress and when Marty shoots Cam in the leg in a “hunting accident,” wherein he then leap frogs Cam back into the lead.

The film loses some steam in the third act when it feels necessary to become “about something.” Most of “The Campaign” is the kind of no-net and fearless comedy I love, but at some point its director, Jay Roach, decided that this stupid, insane film needed some kind of moral. So we get a final 30 minutes of character redemption and the villainous corporate candidate backers getting just desserts in after-school-special-style grandstanding. I would have preferred a more surreal final act. Comedies are far better when the characters are irredeemable. Instead, we get a remorseless ass like Cam Brady suddenly growing a conscience. Pass.

To me, comedy is always better when it sheds conventions and goes for the jugular. There was a real opportunity to make “The Campaign” a wonderfully obscene donkey punch of a film. Eventually, Roach (“Meet the Parents,” “Austin Powers”) pulls out the kid gloves and denies us the kind of dark, morbid third act the film deserves. Instead, we get a family-friendly, “God Bless America!” finalé that will pacify the mainstream ticket-buyer. And it’s a damn shame because “The Campaign” could have been a classic. It starts out so mean-spirited and ends up smiles and sunshine. Blech.

Despite its Capra-esque third act, we have 60 minutes of hysterical over-the-top comedy from two of the funniest guys in the business. Jason Sudeikis and Dylan McDermott do a great job as the campaign managers desperate to claim victory for their respective candidate. Brian Cox, Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow show up representing the establishment and are given almost nothing to do. Their presence in the film seems baffling, considering all the weight is carried by Ferrell and Galifianakis. Fortunately, they both come out swinging and deliver the kind of ludicrous laughs we’ve come to expect.

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