Put Will Ferrell in front of a camera, tell him to spoof a politician, and he'll surely conjure up comedy gold for four or five minutes. Pair him up with Zach Galifianakis and they could probably stretch that to ten or fifteen minutes. Stretch that out to an 85-minute feature film and you'll get the same volume of comedy with a bunch of nonsense and flat jokes filling in the gaps.
The Campaign pits Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) against Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) in an unlikely battle for congressman of North Carolina. Brady has ran uncontested for years, but when corporate bigwigs decide they'd like a puppet, they encourage the eager-to-please Huggins to run against him. What follows is a low brow satire that may have had some bite five years ago, but feels pretty pedestrian in today's political climate.
Without any clever satire to bolster the comedy, The Campaign has only its performances to rely on. In that sense, the film plays like Ferrell's Anchorman or Talladega Nights with politicians instead of newscasters or race car drivers. If only it was half as good as either of those films.
As a laugh delivery system, The Campaign chugs along with a large dose of silliness and misfired jokes. There's very little quote-worthy material here, and the truly funny moments are so few and far between that I was bored by the time they got to them.
What's left is a plot that features a cast full of mostly heartless, dopey, or impossibly shameless clowns force fed through a safe tale where they all seem to forgive and find their way. The good guys win, the bad guys lose, and the sappy music is cued regardless of how poorly it fits.
Why is it that time and time again, a comedy like this attempts to bring some kind of heartfelt message into the story? I can't imagine anyone watching The Campaign was rooting for any of the characters or even remotely cared what happened to them. This wasn't a Judd Apatow adult comedy-drama, it was a bunch of cartoon characters facing off in a political spoof. It would have been better served by trading in its attempts at heart for a sharp edge or a descent into complete madness.
I can't help but think of The Dictator, and how expertly that film accomplished so much of what The Campaign tried and failed to do. The biting political satire, the oddly heartfelt tale featuring absurd characters, and a sharp comedic wit made Sacha Baron Cohen's underrated film everything The Campaign should have been.
When was the last time you saw Dan Akroyd in a movie? The Campaign features an all-star cast and squanders it completely. John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Jason Sudeikis, and a surprisingly great performance from Dylan McDermott all get filed under wasted potential. Ferrell and Galifianakis alone should have guaranteed at least an average comedy, but The Campaign was a chore to watch.
One bad comedy isn't enough to spoil the rest, but I can't help feeling this doesn't bode well for Anchorman 2. Has Ferrell lost his touch? He's still capable of killing it in short internet skits and weird indie projects like Everything Must Go and Casa De Mi Padre, but as a leading comedy star I can't help but wonder if his brand of humor has run its course.