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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Campaign

It must be election time...

Being timely isn't the same as being funny as far as political parody goes, but it's still surprising how flaccid The Campaign turned out to be.

It's true Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell are both decidedly variable comedic talents, but they have both been very funny in the past and, considering the nature of the material at hand, there was no real reason for them not to be funny here. Further, director Jay Roach is as comfortable with scathing political criticism (Game Change, Recount) as he is with broad comedy (Meet the Parents, Austin Powers) but, on the evidence of this, he clearly needs a screenwriter like Danny Strong to bring the best out of him. They may have TV's Eastbound and Down and The Other Guys to their names but it's pretty clear that good political satire is beyond the reach of screenwriters Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell.

It's not that The Campaign is a truly torturous watch or that it is entirely lacking in chuckles, it's just that a single episode of The Daily Show with John Stewart or The Colbert Report has more, better, smarter and edgier laughs in their twenty minutes than The Campaign has in all of its ninety-minute run time. The writers of these shows are also able to achieve this four nights a week, almost every week of the year.

The Campaign's political satire is extremely broad and if the film does have any laughs, it comes more from Galifianakis and Ferrell doing their usual schtick than from anything intrinsic in the film's obvious, not to mention blunt, stabs at American politics. Ferrell plays Cam Brady, an arrogant and long-running North Carolina congressman whose position is threatened by a couple of CEOs' plan to replace him with Galifianakis' Marty Huggins, a well meaning doofus. It's a plot that should be ripe for satire but is instead used as yet another opportunity for Ferrell to turn in another sub-Anchorman role and for Galifianakis to play a very slight variation of his character from the Hangover films.

It takes half-hearted jabs at the American political process, at how corporations run politics and how even a good man can be corrupted by the ugliness of the political game, but the film is far more interested in running gags of grown men accidentally punching babies - which is, admittedly, funnier than it has any right to be -than in anything gutsier or more biting.

It's not the worst comedy you'll see this year but when real-world politics are funnier than a film allegedly satirizing them, you know you're in trouble.

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