Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Campaign (2012)

Well, the 2012 presidential election is almost over (thank God Almighty), and while I had not planned on doing a election-themed review, I recently saw a movie that fit that description, so might as well. So will it be the Robert Redford classic "The Candidate"? Or maybe a full review of "The Ides of March"? 

Nope, its going to be the movie where Will Ferrell punches a baby. Stay classy, Observer...

Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis
Directer: Jay Roach

The movie stars Will Ferrell as a buffoonish congressman named Cam Brady who is running for reelection when he is caught trying  to make an illicit phone message to a mistress. Suddenly vulnerable, he is challenged by an odd yet idealistic tour guide named Marty Huggins, played by Zach Galifianakis. While he seems like a long shot, he is under the influence of the wealthy Motch Brothers, played by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow (or as they are known on this blog, the sitting president in "My Fellow Americans" and the Trinity Killer from "Dexter"). They remake his image with the help of a shady campaign manager (Dylan McDermott) and it leads to a race that get nastier and nastier by the minute.

This an okay movie. I know, I know, I know, I say that about a bunch of different films which by most critical measurements do not deserve even that small positive feedback. That is partly a matter of how I view films, which is trying to see all sides of the picture. But I am also being honest about this one. 

Now that being said, its not exactly a game-changer. Ferrell and Galifianakis play the roles that they usually play, the former being the loud and angry jackass who hurts himself a lot, the latter being...weird. The supporting characters do their parts more or less the way they are suppose to do them. The plot is that of a typical political comedy: Groups A and B just can't get along and get into wacky situations because of it. It also ends on a familiar note: serving the people = good, greedy special interests = bad. In other words, this is another "it is what is is" type of movie.

So what exactly keeps this movie afloat, if anything? Well, it has a bunch of idiotic characters being really crass and unpleasant, which has been the death of many a comedy, and Will Ferrell in particular has been guilt of that on more than one occasion ("Step-Brothers," "Blades of Glory," etc.). I guess the big difference with this one is that, well, it's about politics: the way people act in this movie are obviously over-the-top, but given the way real campaigns are run, I do not think a lot of people are going to be seeing this and complain that it depicts our political system in a negative light. They may not approve of a lot of the bathroom humor or some of the other things that are shown or said, but not the overall emphasis on the nastiness. Comparing your opponent to Al-Qaeda does not look quite as outrageous in a political environment that spreads rumors about "death panels" and features ads about Grandma getting tossed off a cliff. So on that basic level, it works.

So, is the movie funny? Mmm, parts of it. Despite being a dramatic actor, McDermott is pretty amusing as Tim Wattley, an intense campaigner whose methods are a bit extreme to say the least. And Karen Maruyama also provides some humor as Mrs. Yao, the maid of Huggin's father (Brian Cox) who is obligated to talk with a Southern black accent (despite the fact that she is Asian) so that he can be reminded of the "good ole days." Saturday Night Live's Jason Sudeikis does a decent job acting as  Everything else is kind of hit and miss, but it keeps the film going at a steady paste (and it helps that it is only 85 minutes long).

On a side note, I kind of wished that the Motch Brothers had gotten more of a role in the film. Although they were modeled after the real-life Koch brothers, they remind me a lot of the rich brothers from "Trading Places," which was not a political film but had a vaguely similar plot. This comparison is even more compelling when you consider that Dan Aykroyd was the victim of the brother's conspiracy in that film and is now a brotherly co-conspirator in this one. I just think that is an interesting career transition, even if it was not intentional. So I wish that the movie had played more upon their characters, particularly given the comedic abilities of both Aykroyd as well as Lithgow (remember that episode of "3rd Rock from the Sun" where he brutally murders a woman in her bathtub and...wait, I think I am getting his TV roles confused...). Then again, if they did end up doing that and the attempt flopped, there is a good chance I would be complaining about how the filmmakers were trying to rip off "Places" or that they were trying to make a partisan political statement (they are, in fact, a bit partisan, but not in an overwhelming manner). So, it cuts both ways. I just thought I would point this out from my own nerdy, movie-obsessed point of view.

So overall, the movie is...passable, I guess. It all really comes down to how you feel about the two main actors. As I have indicated here and in the past, I have mixed feelings about Ferrell and I like Galifianakis well enough but I won't say I am crazy about him. If I had to place a range as to where this falls in terms of their respective filmographies, I would say it is not as good as "The Other Guys" but better than "Due Date." Sound like a ringing endorsement to you? Eh, didn't think so. My point being is that if you are a big fan of one or both of them, you will probably like it. If you don't like either of them, you may want to skip it. As far as being a political comedy goes, this one relies a lot more on gags than satire. Again, it depends on what you like, though for me it's a little hard to recommend it since there is better stuff out there (such as, well, "My Fellow Americans":

But if any of this appeals to you, by all means, go and see it. I am guessing, however, that you may want to wait a bit before you do so. I think we have all had enough of campaigns for the time being, don't you?

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