The Campaign, 2012, 1 ¼ stars

A losing Campaign

From The Orlando Weekly, August 9, 2012 (http://orlandoweekly.com/film/the-campaign-1.1356808)

Political campaigns and movies both start with the best intentions. But as candidacies implode morally, films do so aesthetically. Indeed, Will Ferrell’s latest comedy, The Campaign, simply runs out of good ideas and, like a politician behind in the polls, starts throwing anything and everything at the voters, um, audience to see what sticks. Not much does.

Jay Roach (Meet the Parents, Austin Powers films) directs, so one shouldn’t expect Wag the Dog or Dave, but some of the cleverness and honesty of Roach’s Dinner for Schmucks – arguably his best offering – would be nice. What we get instead are penis and fart jokes, heavy-handed and offensive sight gags, sexual shenanigans and a frenetic pace that doesn’t give the few genuinely funny moments time to breathe.

Ferrell is incumbent Democratic U.S. Congressman Cam Brady. Despite his status as an incompetent slimeball, he is running unopposed for reelection in his tiny North Carolina district. After his popularity slips, two powerful CEOs (a miscast Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) concoct a scheme to draft a Republican challenger and force him to later turn control of the district over to China – cue the xenophobia – in order to exploit cheap labor.

That challenger is Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), an unknown, slightly goofy local whose only claim to fame is running the local tourist bureau. Why the CEOs spend millions morphing Huggins into a slick politician, with the assistance of campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) and Huggins’ famous father (Brian Cox), instead of finding a good candidate in the first place remains mostly unanswered. Yes, the believability is bolstered by the endless cameos by the likes of Chris Matthews, Wolf Blitzer and Bill Maher, whose reputations are now slightly soiled, but Roach and writer Shawn Harwell (Eastbound and Down) don’t seem to care about plausibility as long as the setup produces shtick between Ferrell and Galifianakis.

And that shtick is endless, some chuckle-worthy, some biting, but most either stupid or in patently poor taste. Remember the baby-punching you’ve been seeing in the trailers, with the baby thankfully just off screen? Well, here’s a spoiler alert: Ferrell is shown actually punching the (digitized) baby – twice! Ferrell punches a dog too (Uggie from The Artist, no less). And on a drunken binge, he then proceeds to crash a stolen police car into a cow. Yes, if you see just one political satire with child and animal abuse this year …

The Campaign does have a point to make: Politics has degenerated so far that virtually anything is possible. But in making that point, the movie becomes even dumber than the system it’s lampooning. And when it departs from farce and tries to show sweetness and morality, it misses the mark even more, despite the solid performance of Galifianakis, who again proves he’s far funnier than the overrated Ferrell. Sadly, even Galifianakis becomes the celluloid equivalent of the butterfly ballot by the end of the mercifully brief 85-minute runtime. Can we get Jimmy Stewart to filibuster this film?

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