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Catching Up on 2012: The Campaign

In The Campaign, Will Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a handsome, smugly arrogant Democratic Congressman from North Carolina.  His easy-street string of running unopposed is broken when two corrupt businessmen (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) convince someone to run against him.  That someone is Raymond Huggins, played by Zach Galifianakis.  Raymond is a weird, squirrely little man, and he is chosen because of how simple and easy to manipulate he is.  As the simple Raymond is transformed into a canny political operator, he becomes a real threat to Cam, and the two men soon set out to destroy each other.

After digging deeply into real-world politics with Recount (which chronicled the weeks of indecision following the 2000 Presidential election — click here for my review) and Game Change (which focused on Sarah Palin and the 2008 Presidential campaign — click here for my review), director Jay Roach decided to stick with politics but move into a fictional, more straightly comedic film.  I thought that was a good idea when I first read about The Campaign, but I was disappointed by the execution.  I found The Campaign to be only mildly amusing, far from the laugh-riot I had hoped for from the pairing of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis.

But even more than that, what dissatisfied me about The Campaign was that — particularly in comparison to the incredibly sharp films Recount and Game Change — I could never quite see the point of The Campaign.  What message does the film have to tell us?  That politicans can be stupid and/or arrogant?  Wow, what a groundbreaking idea!  Had Raymond started out as a fairly normal character, who then was turned into a cruel, selfish politician, that would have been a story-arc.  Not a particularly original or insightful one, but that would have at least shown me that the movie had a point of view, and was commenting on the corrosive effects of the state of politics in 2012 America.  But Raymond starts out the film as a total nutball, equally as weird and unlikable as Will Ferrell’s John Edwards-like Cam Brady, just in a different way.  So… what’s the point  of view of the film?

Which leads me to conclude that the film has absolutely nothing substantial to say about politics, and is just using the political arena as a setting for a funny story.  Coming after Recount and Game Change, that would be a little disappointing to me but still a perfectly reasonable approach to take.  Except that the film isn’t nearly funny enough to make that work.  If The Campaign was intended by Mr. Roach and his team to just be a fun yuk-fest, then in my opinion they fell way short.  A funnier film wouldn’t have me questioning the film’s point-of-view.

The Campaign is centered on the idea of the collision between Will Farrell and Zach Galifianakis, and both men try very hard to be funny.  But in the end, I never felt the film paid off the potential inherent in the idea of these two superlative comedians — with such different physical presences — going at one another.  The period in the story in which Cam and Raymond really vow to destroy one another is probably my favorite part of the movie.  But that section of the story is way too short.  It takes us way to long to get to that point, and once the two men are really at each other’s throats, it isn’t too long before they are able to resolve their differences, which frankly I found very disappointing.

I will say that Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow are an ingenious pairing as the villainous, super-wealthy Motch Brothers.  What a great casting coup.  The two men are absolute gold together, with terrific chemistry.  I would have rather seen a whole movie focused on THESE two men rather than on Cam and Raymond!!

 The Campaign isn’t terrible.  It’s just mediocre, and I was hoping for more.

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