Some people reflexively dislike politicians. Whether it’s an aura of self interest, incompetence or dishonesty, they get turned off from the people who they do (or don’t) elect to represent them. This seems like a popular attitude right now, as Congress suffers from an all-time low approval rating.
“The Campaign” takes this frustration and channels it into a North Carolina congressional race.
There is a lot of comedic promise here. Zack Galifianakis challenges an incumbent Will Ferrell in a tense political campaign. Jason Sudeikis plays Ferrell’s trusted advisor and friend. John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd are incredibly rich and up to no good.
It seems like there are enough great pieces to put together a powerfully hilarious movie, and for the first 30 or 40 minutes, it looks like that might be where we’re going. Everyone is on point with their characters. The plot is thick enough to be intriguing without dragging the comedy down. There are a few scenes that provide belly-aching laughs. Then it drops off. The story loses its flavor and tries to double dip on jokes that it has already used.
Don’t get me wrong. If you are a fan of Ferrell or Galifianakis, and can tolerate some disappointment in the second half, “The Campaign” is definitely worth seeing. It has some outstandingly funny moments and it even deals with a fairly deep theme of corruption that may resonate with more politically aware members of the audience. However, at some point the story does get old.
This movie takes on a number of issues that are present in the current political climate. From debates that feature candidates who won’t actually answer policy questions to damning attack ads, the movie cuts at the issues that are often used to cast politicians as a whole in a bad light. The plot is even based off of the sinister dealings of a pair of greedy billionaires who control politics with money, the Motch brothers (Google “Koch brothers” for reference on this allusion).
The casting of Ferrell and Galifianakis might seem obvious for these roles, but they really do perfect their characters. With a better script, they could have made this an election year classic.
Ferrell is Cam Brady — a loud, proud, scandal-laden incumbent entrenched in his congressional seat. He comes fully equipped with a back story about what inspired him to enter politics (at age 10), but has since come to embody the negative stereotype of a politician whose main goal at all times is to remain a politician.
Galifianakis plays Marty Huggins, a man so soft and weird that only he could own this role. Huggins challenges Brady and provides most of the great comedy in this movie as his soft persona is hardened through the campaign. A dinner table scene where he tells his two adolescent sons to air out any secrets they have is a good enough reason to see this movie, even if you wait until it hits Netflix.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t hold up. Aykroyd and Lithgow aren’t given any real material. Ferrell and Galifianakis start strong and seem ready to continue providing laughs, but are left without the tools to do so. I give this movie three out of five popcorns for a few impressive scenes and a great performance from its stars.