Monday, August 13, 2012

Review: The Campaign

The Campaign, like so many comedies, is held back by it's own lack of ambition. That's not really a flaw or even a complaint, it just is. It's a loud and often extremely funny comedy that occasionally flirts with becoming a darker political satire, but never quite makes the full leap, instead content to let the darker aspect hang around on the margins to entice the heavier thinkers in the audience. This might keep it from being all it can be, but it doesn't stop it from being good and it certainly doesn't stop it from being funny.

For the record, the movie is concerned with Will Ferrel playing a slightly more sexual version of Will Ferrel as a 4 term Congressman used to running unopposed. When he makes a mistake that leaves his reelection in doubt, 2 billionaire brothers (who are clearly NOT the Koch brothers) back Zack Galifianakis as a more effeminite version of Zack Galifianakis to run against him.

So yeah, there's not a lot of heavy acting going on, but it all works. Will Ferrel is putting in a good amount of effort to make his character funny, putting on the same style that informed his grand Bush parodies on SNL. Galifianakis puts more work than he probably needs to, into a character he could probably play in his sleep, and the movie is better for it. There's also some solid supporting work from the likes of Brian Cox and Dan Ackroyd (who's been having an absolutely awful post-Blues Brothers career). And believe it or not, the standout is Dylan McDermott (who some of you might remember from American Horror Story as the worst father in the world) playing a campaign advisor who steals every single scene he's in.

The movie, and it's comedy, are very much of-the-moment, with shots directly at modern political issues like the Anthony Wiener scandal, the Koch Brothers and the like. But what surprises me is how non-partisan it manages to be, despite openly naming both the parties (a rarity in modern political comedies, and one I'm happy to see). Neither of the candidates talk much about their respective issues, which allows both of them to alternate between hero and villain without us getting wrapped up too much in the politics. Not even the not-Koch brothers (I'm sure they had another name, but I don't care) don't seem to have a political ideology beyond 'we want to be richer.'

I really don't have much of a desire to talk about the writing or directing but here we are. The direction is fine, nothing on the director's previous work in the first Austin Powers, much less Recount or Game Change, but it works, especially a couple of grandly funny moments (including one involving McDermott's character that is probably one of the best staged 'joke shots' I've seen outside of Cabin in the Woods). The screenplay is fine, even if it is a little too in love with Galifianakis' rather thin character arc, helped along by an R-Rating that let's it say and do exactly what it wants to.

It's not without it's flaws: The political satire and the more juvenile humor occasionally undercut each other, especially when they start crossing over towards the end. The middle is a little awkward, when a few too many changes in tone might throw you out of the movie. And it must be said, I'm a little disappointed in the ending, because it looked like they were about to go really far in one direction (I even said to my viewing companions: 'That was dark.') but then turns it around in time for a typical happy ending.

But that doesn't exceptionally matter, as the movie accomplishes the first and most important goal of a comedy: Being funny. It's a good time at the movies for all, and will probably wind up being on the better comedies of the year (Cabin doesn't QUITE count). So if you're looking for something to see right now, this would be my recommendation. See ya next time.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he would like to memeify 'Tim Wattley is watching you eat.'

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