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The Campaign Isn’t Great But It Fits the Bill

The Campaign
Directed by Jay Roach
Written by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell
Warner Bros., 2012

Will Ferrell has been in a perpetual holding pattern for awhile.  After movies like Blades of Glory and Semi-Pro began to show chinks in the armor for the bankable comedy star, we saw Step Brothers (I didn’t like it, but it was his last true hit and it has a following), the awful Land of the Lost, and the OK The Other Guys.  Sandwiched in there was comedy-drama Everything Must Go and the did-anyone-see-it? Casa de mi Padre.  What it may show is that the man-child antics and trademark Ferrell silliness had a good run, but it has worn on us over time.

The Campaign is a movie that shows Will Ferrell still has some life left in that well-defined, but narrow cast of characters he’s played.  It can grate at times, but it also can pull out some great moments as well.  Here, Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a congressman from North Carolina who is looking to run unopposed in the next election. His campaign manager Mitch (Jason Sudeikis) has probably the easiest job in the world with no obstacles in the way, and his wife Rose (Katherine LaNasa) is merely there to look supportive (and advance her own career) and could care less when Brady cheats on her.  With the prospect of running unopposed, Brady has become frivolous with his womanizing and idiocy, and his rich backers, the Motch Brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd, Aykroyd ironically playing a Randolph/Mortimer Duke-type character from Trading Places), have decided they need a new congressman, one who can help them bring cheap Chinese labor to North Carolina.

They tap family man Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), the son of a wealthy friend of theirs, Raymond Huggins (Brian Cox, because if he’s not going to be in The Bourne Legacy, he has to be in something), as someone who will be easy to push around.  But, Marty is an almost Leslie-Knope-from-Parks-and-Recreation type of character who loves his district and wants to do the right thing.   But he slowly moves towards the dark side when the Motch’s hire the creepy Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott, stealing every single scene he’s in) to be his campaign manager and ethics go out the door.  Marty is obviously a closeted homosexual (which the movie doesn’t make a big deal about, or even outright confirm, thankfully) who is married to Mitzi (Sarah Baker), and has two children.

The campaign becomes a big fight, literally and figuratively: and both do horrible, horrible things to each other.  Perhaps the funniest subtle comment on our society is how the candidates get “a slight bump” every time they do something stupid.

I feel like this movie really goes for it in a lot of scenes, and then pulls back in others, which is why this isn’t a total success.  But for a late summer comedy, this is decent and does the job.  Ferrell and Galifianakis are excellent comedy sparring partners, way different in style but perfectly suited to play opponents.  But as I said before, Dylan McDermott absolutely steals this movie whenever he’s onscreen.

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