Movie Review The Campaign: Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrel Campaign But Never Win
Yeah The Campaign is funny, but with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakas front and center, “funny” was a guarantee. I'd go as far as to say that director Jay Roach, best known for the Austin Powers trilogy, would have had to make a concerted effort to NOT make a funny movie out of Ferrell vs. Galifianakas. Unfortunately, what could, and perhaps should, have been an absolutely uproarious movie wound up as nothing more than a mediocre effort with a one or two decent laughs and lots of missed opportunities.
But let's start with the good. The scene touted by the trailer, in which Ferrell punches a baby, is in fact the funniest moment of the film. I was concerned that knowing what was coming might have subtracted from the comedy, but the actual scene has a few crucially hilarious layers that were deftly left out of the previews. The punch and it's aftermath are by far the most enjoyable few minutes in the entire movie, but I certainly don't mean that as a negative. There are plenty of fine comedic films that wish they had a scene as funny as an adorable baby getting cold-cocked by Will Ferrell.
For Galifianakas, his funniest moments are probably his most understated. He had me cracking up the hardest just watching him try to get comfortable in various chairs throughout the film. There's a surprisingly low amount of slapstick in this movie, which allows Galifianakas' subtle physical comedy to shine. The movie actually loses out in some of Ferrell's zanier scenes, which sometimes feel slightly out of place.
Misplaced antics aside, by far the biggest issue for The Campaign is believability. While no one expects a comedy like this to be air-tight, there was an element of reality missing not just from the plot, but from many of the jokes as well. Obviously, the core of this film is a satire of the campaign process, and in order to be effective, satire needs to hit somewhere close to home. The Campaign failed far too often in this regard. Absurdity is an absolutely essential part of any good lampooning, but this movie was too absurd for it's own good. It passes the point of social commentary when the evil campaign financiers are also the crooked manufacturers of the voting machines. (Why do they bother with both?)
The other major failing of this Ferrel and Galifianakis team was quite simply missed opportunity. There were several moments that were just begging for a more finely crafted punch line. A good example of this would be the scene in which Galifianakas asks his family if they have any secrets to share before the media digs them up. Naturally, the confessions spiral totally out of control in hilarious fashion, but for some reason the final joke is delivered by his wife who says, “I touch myself to Drew Carey on The Price is Right.” After a series of legitimately funny revelations, what should be the topper falls completely flat. (Cue: Price is Right “fail” horn)
It's also important to note that while this film is ruthless in it's mockery of the election process, there is almost no political commentary from a left vs. right perspective. There's only one mention of either democrats or republicans, and each candidate's politics are completely irrelevant to their campaign strategy. This was an interesting choice, and I have to wonder if they missed out on some potentially hilarious, and perhaps even poignant, moments. Obviously the producers didn't want to alienate anyone politically, but I would have preferred some jabs from both the left and the right rather than a completely neutral point of view.
Overall, The Campaign just didn't live up to my expectations. I had extremely high hopes for the pairing of Will Ferrel and Zach Galifianakis, but I was left wanting. It just wasn't punchy enough for a political satire, and more than a few jokes needed some fine tuning. Still, I did laugh, sometimes pretty hard. I'd have to give it a 6.5/10.