Nick Nunziata: There is an obscure joke in the end credits of Jay Roach’s The Campaign that on its own merit alone would have justified a recommendation. It has to do with Dylan McDermott’s character and his aliases, avid moviegoers will get it. Luckily there’s plenty to recommend about the film, a by-the-numbers but delightfully vulgar little nugget that allows Will Ferrell to hone his chops for next year’s Anchorman sequel.
With Zach Galifianakis riffing on his fake brother character from his stand-up, Ferrell in top form, and a nice assortment of familiar faces there’s little to hate about a film that will please large audiences but have enough of a mean streak to elevate it from the chaff.
Tim Kelly: Exactly. I was mildly surprised when I got to the theatre and realized The Campaign was rated R. That’s how little attention I’ve paid to this movie in the lead-up. But it’s nice to finally see a comedy with real teeth in these summer months. Where The Dictator was something of a misstep for Sacha Baron Cohen, The Campaign totally plays to the strengths of its two stars. Farrell and Galifianakis are dialed in, committing to characters that seem one-note in the early going but blossom into fully-realized comedic presences.
Like all good comedies, The Campaign escalates. I had concerns after the first 10 minutes or so passed with barely a laugh. But the film takes time setting up premise and players so that, when it’s finally time to punch a baby, you’ll feel it too. Too many comedies get distracted by keeping their leads on the moral right. This isn’t that film. As candidates for the 14th District of North Carolina, Cam Brady (Ferrell) and Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) display uproariously poor judgment. And I laughed the whole way through.
Renn Brown: Ferrell and Galifianakis are definitely game, but whether it’s because of Jay Roach’s flat direction or the script that feels like it was written via text messages, they felt held back to me. The movie certainly made me laugh, but considering the sheer volume of one-liners it throws at the screen like so much hopefully-sticking shit, how could it not? Roach has no sense of how to build a comedic sequence or sustain a joke for any amount of time, so the film moves from scene to scene of its cartoon political plot and jokes just happen. Even worse is when the film simply halts so that characters can toss back and forth one-liners, as if holes were left in the script for the stand-up writers to just dump in everything they brought to the punch-up session.
The film definitely has laughs, but this is a paper thin effort and save for maybe a single scene in which Will Ferrell gets to let loose for a moment, the two leads are given no time and little freedom to really plow into the absurdity that can actually makes these personas great.
Nick Nunziata: The fun is in those moments where two masters of modern comedy are having at each other. Films like these are about the one liners and the obtuse things coming from unexpected mouths. Talladega Nights gets more mileage from the children at the dinner table saying ludicrous shit than it does from the racing shenanigans. Anchorman is a collection of insane lines and characters tied together. This movie benefits from some of that vibe as well and though it’s hardly a perfect comedy Jay Roach does a very able job letting his stars do their thing.
Tim Kelly: For better or worse, Jay Roach is a director who stays out of the way of his performers. Which isn’t to say that films like Austin Powers, Meet the Parents or The Campaign directed themselves – Roach simply allows the material to play out as the comedians see fit. HBO’s Game Change proved to me that Roach has chops, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the overall lack of consistency in his films. So, where you can always recognize an Adam McKay or Mike Judge movie, Roach’s work lends itself to the filmographies of the stars at the expense of establishing any sort of through-line for himself as an artist. When I think of Campaign, it’ll be as a Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis film. Not a Jay Roach film.
But comedy as a genre affords itself that leeway. Renn points out how scenes dissolve into rapid-fire one-liner fests, and they do wear on the film – the first debate being one notable example. But it’s that level of gamesmanship between our two stars that, applied throughout the entire film, made me laugh so consistently. So I accepted the tradeoff, because it lends itself to The Campaign’s compete lack of restraint.
Renn Brown: I see very little unrestrained madness here; relative to the usual efforts from these comedians, this things feels exceptionally scripted. Again, this is all generalities, as there are definitely examples of Ferrell, Galifianakis and their co-stars letting off with some great moments. For the most part though, I’m watching tired, lazy caricatures spouting off one-liners over and over. Sequences in this film don’t build, gather energy, escalate and explode like the stuff we love in great, memorable comedies. There’s little in the way of edgy or particularly raunchy humor, so it’s not pushing boundaries- baby endangerment and profane children are hardly untapped comedic territory.
It’s just lame construction all around, and all designed to pit Ferrell’s toned-down Bush impersonation against Galafianakis’ Seth persona (minus all the brilliant non-sequitur that actually makes that character funny). I was excited to see Galafianakis break out of his lovable-retard man-child character a bit and play with something he’d created, but then he marched on screen straight out of Due Date with a small dog on a leash a fanny pack. Roach gets out of the way, but that’s not what good comedy needs. The kind of anarchy and absurdity that these guys are good at needs someone who knows how to get in there, stoke the fires, capture it, and still cut together a narrative.
I just have a serious problem with comedies from which you could cut together a YouTube montage not much longer than the trailer and pack in every laugh-worthy moment.
Nick Nunziata: Aside from jokes featuring Pugs and a little too much mileage given to Brian Cox’s maid this thing just breezes along and balances easy jokes with a few pointed barbs about the system. Adam McKay is a writer and producer on this and anyone who follows his Twitter knows he has very strong political opinions. It’s fun to see how he channels those things as he shows the corruption and lunacy of the campaign process through the lens of a mainstream comedy. And this is a mainstream comedy. For a mainstream comedy it has just enough brains and just enough fun to escalate it past the bulk of what is sold as side-splitting fare.
Tim Kelly: Nick brings up politics, but the sharp wit comes with a bipartisan slant. It’s not so much finger-pointing as it is shedding light on the lunacy of election rituals. Be it the farce of the attack ads or the delicate puppetry with which Dylan McDermott manipulates the canidates. The film doesn’t arrive at any conclusions you haven’t probably already reached yourself – seperating it from more challenging fare. And Renn’s right narratively speaking, you could string jokes together and still skip the narrative whole. I think that, under serious scrutiny, that’s true for a few comedies we’d probably all agree are classics. Is The Campaign a classic? No, but it’s good for more than a few laughs.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Nick Nunziata: There is something special about watching Will Ferrell in roles where he doesn’t have to play it safe, so a lot of what makes this movie a winner may depend on how giddy one gets seeing make an ass of himself. And if this movie is a serious of Funny or Die sketches, so be it. When Ferrell is making me laugh I don’t care how. Every scene the guy is in works. Sometimes in an elegantly executed way and sometimes cheaply. But it works and that’s all I need from a comedy that comes out in the doldrums of mid August. The guy is the best in the world at this particular kind of blind, dumb, arrogance.Galifanakis is different. This character is in his wheelhouse but it’s a persona that people outside of the South will probably find funnier than those in it. It’s not nearly as much a caricature as it appears. He’s the straight man here and though he has some moments this is Ferrell’s movie.
It works. It’s lite but it’s worthy.
It loses some points for wasting folks like Brian Cox, John Lithgow, Dan Ackroyd, and Jason Sudekis but there’s plenty of meat on the bone.
In a world where Adam Sandler is allowed to conduct his brain dampening shitty witchcraft this is a mint on the pillow at the end of summer movie season.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Renn Brown: They certainly do a good a job of rearranging loyalties and character flaws enough that no particular party is alienated, even if the Koch Brothers parallel is transparent. Still the political stuff I found less witty than any given episode of Stewart or Colbert. Ultimately my problem is that the chemistry doesn’t line up for me in a satisfying way, it’s painfully by the numbers, lacks any insight, features comedic masters at their most rote, and the filmmaking lacks any sense of comedic momentum. It’s like Paul all over again. None of those problems individually matter that much if you’re laughing, but even on that level it’s pretty hit or miss. There’s maybe three or four really great Funny Or Die sketches scattered throughout this thing, but I expect better than a merely competent comedy from these guys. I just got a whole lot more nervous about how Ron Burgundy’s legend is going to fare next summer.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars