The Campaign
dir Jay Roach
scr Chris Henchy, Shawn Harwell
prd Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Adam McKay, Jay Roach
with Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, Brian Cox, Sarah Baker, Katherine LaNasa, Karen Maruyama, Grant Goodman, Randall Cunningham
release US 10.Aug.12, UK 28.Sep.12
12/US Warner 1h25
The Campaign
Contenders ready: Galifianakis and Ferrell

sudeikis mcdermott lithgow
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Campaign By mixing silliness with parody, this electioneering comedy keeps us laughing at a pointed target. But the filmmakers undermine it by drifting into schmaltz. So the early promise of a razor-sharp send-up of American politics ends up feeling rather toothless.

Cam Brady (Ferrell) is a slick five-term congressman from North Carolina who plans to coast his way to re-election. But the high-rolling Motch brothers (Lithgow and Aykroyd) want someone they can more easily control, so they select Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), son of their big-business pal (Cox), to run against Cam. They also hire a ruthless campaign manager (McDermott) to take on Cam's trusted sidekick (Sudeikis). As the naive Marty learns to fight back against an experienced mudslinger, the Motch brothers plot to turn the district into a Chinese sweatshop.

Ferrell and Galifiankis dive headlong into their cartoonish characters. The womanising Cam is a slick operator with strong hair who believes he can get away with anything as long as he mentions America, Jesus and freedom. By contrast, Marty is a camp, cardigan-wearing goofball with a well-fed wife (Baker) and kids, plus two beloved pugs. Their campaign appearances are hilariously well-written, packed with pointed commentary on US politics (neither of them ever says anything substantial) and wacky slapstick (including brawls, sex-romps and a riotous cameo by Uggy).

Much of this is so knowing that it will keep audiences laughing, especially since it never pauses to let us catch our breath. So while several jokes fall flat, it's not long before a clever zinger comes along. Underlying all of this is a rather frightening commentary on the inane tone of US elections, in which candidates hurl ludicrous invective at each other while pretending to take the high road. And the electorate just gobbles it up.

So it's a shame that the script wimps out in the end. The brilliantly cast but underused Lithgow and Aykroyd provide handy villains who are even more shamelessly repugnant than the candidates, who of course must be redeemed through corny sentiment. And while much of the humour feels eerily dead-on, the over-the-top antics rely on shock value for laughs. Which is kind of a con when the movie turns out to have such a gooey centre.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality, violence 21.Sep.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall