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With: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, Katherine LaNasa, Sarah Baker, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, Brian Cox, Karen Maruyama, Grant Goodman, Kya Haywood, Randall D. Cunningham, Madison Wolfe, Thomas Middleditch
Written by: Chris Henchy, Shawn Harwell
Directed by: Jay Roach
MPAA Rating: R for crude sexual content, language and brief nudity
Running Time: 85
Date: 08/04/2012

The Campaign (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Sour Votes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It was only a matter of time before Will Ferrell adapted his trademark character, which channels childlike behavior into a large adult body, to the realm of politics, where it seems to fit perfectly. In the new movie The Campaign Ferrell stars as Cam Brady, a congressman from North Carolina who seeks to defend his seat during the latest election.

At first Cam runs unopposed. But a couple of sleazy, wealthy businessmen, the Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) decide they want to set up a factory in a small town, complete with underpaid Chinese workers ("it'll save on shipping costs!"), and they need a political patsy to help set this evil plan into action. So they choose the ridiculous Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), so pathetic that he never seems to be able to open a door.

Cam and his campaign manager Mitch (Jason Sudeikis) think defeating Marty will be like shooting fish in a barrel, but then the Motch brothers hire a super-manager, Tim (Dylan McDermott), to handle Marty's campaign. ("I'm here to make you not suck.") Tim hangs an oil painting of an eagle over Marty's fireplace, and the race is on.

From there, the movie is a series of dirty tricks, played back and forth between the two candidates. Fortunately, even if these seem predictable, they usually take unexpected turns. In one scene, Cam comes to visit Marty in an attempt at a truce. Marty gives Cam large glassfuls of brandy, and Cam drives away, completely inebriated. Marty calls the cops and they pull over Cam. None of that is too surprising, but Cam's reaction -- and the choice of camera angles -- is hilarious.

Whereas Ferrell is inherently funny, the jury is still out on Galifianakis. He seems to require heavy exterior stimulus for his humor; his characters are clueless, and he invites cruelty and ridicule upon himself. In one scene, Cam presents a "bio" of Marty's life, which includes several embarrassing photos (such as his membership in a workout class for overweight women). While these may be among Galifianakis' funniest moments, Galifianakis himself doesn't have to do anything during them; most of his humor is based on reaction.

Of course, the movie edges toward the defeat of the malicious, greedy corporate types, which are easily the most satisfying kinds of movie villains today (we don't need foreigners as a threat anymore; the wealthiest Americans are scary enough). Mr. Aykroyd in particular seems to have come full circle, here playing the type of character he helped to take down in Trading Places, though in the 1980s, he ended the film with a great deal of wealth. Nowadays, it's enough for the heroes of The Campaign to come out as good people, regardless of wealth.

Writers Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell were already securely in the Will Ferrell comedy camp, but director Jay Roach (the Austin Powers films, Meet the Parents, Dinner for Schmucks, etc.) is a newcomer, and he jumps right in to Ferrell's brand of comedy. It's definitely outrageous, but it never winks at the audience or cracks up at itself; it lets the audience find its own laughter.

Perhaps the funniest scene is one in which Marty challenges Cam to recite the Lord's Prayer. Cam, who clearly doesn't know it, asks for all cameras to be turned off, and everyone's eyes to be closed. Then Mitch tries to mime the prayer for Cam to interpret, and the results are endlessly brilliant, if perhaps only slightly sacrilegious.

Any movie about politics today has to have some satirical elements, and The Campaign has them too, but subtly and in passing, such as a quick shot of a clearly rigged, corporate-sponsored, computerized voting booth, which some viewers will associate with the 2004 voting in Ohio.

Overall, however, The Campaign is more about getting laughs than votes. In that regard, Ferrell is a consummate entertainer, apparently less concerned with politics than with telling the next joke.

Warner Home Video's new Blu-ray includes an extended version of the movie (96 minutes) in addition to the theatrical cut (85 minutes). Extras are mostly humorous, i.e. "Line-O-Rama," deleted scenes, and a gag reel.

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