I’ve become somewhat reluctant to watch comedies while they’re still in theaters. It’s not that I don’t like comedy. Quite the contrary, I’d probably consider comedy to be my favorite movie genre. The problem is, comedy is subjective. With an action spectacle you pretty much know what you’re going to get, with a comedy, it’s not uncommon for a two minute trailer to contain all the film’s funniest moments, while the rest of the film leaves you wishing you hadn’t just dropped twenty bucks on the cinematic experience. In spite of all this, I did venture to my local megaplex to check out The Campaign. As it turns out the film is a fantastic farce, that delivered some of the biggest laughs I’ve experienced in a theater in a long long time, unfortunately the movie’s second half isn’t good as the first half, and it bogs down quite a lot towards the end.
In the film, Will Ferrell plays four-term congressman Cam Brady, who’s popularity plummets when a sex scandal erupts, but still expects to run unopposed in the next election. This plan is ruined when a couple of evil businessmen, the Motch brothers, (played, depthlessly, by Dan Akroyd and John Lithgow), decide to back a challenge in the person of Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis). Huggins is the kindly, dopey younger son of a veteran political operator, and the brothers assume he will be easily mailable to their machinations. Hilarity ensues when the two candidates, both ill-prepared for a real campaign continue to one-up each other with attack-ads, and dirty tricks that quickly escalate out of hand.
Ferrell and Galifianakis are both on the top of their games as polar-opposite candidates from the same hometown, and the film does a great job of displaying both men as flawed, but not irredeemably broken characters in over their heads. That said, I was most impressed by the performances of the two campaign-manager characters. Jason Sudeikis plays Mitch Wilson, Cam Brady’s long time friend and political handler. While Dylan McDermott plays Tim Wattley the domineering campaign fixer brought in to overhaul Huggins’ life and campaign. If I’m honest, I was really concerned that Sudeikis would be a weak spot in the film. I generally don’t like his work when he goes with a big over-the-top character, (like he did with Shane Gerald in Eastbound and Down,) and this movie has big over-the-top characters througout. However he strikes a fantastic balance and is, for me, probably the most likeable character in the whole movie. McDermott on the other hand is marvelous in his ability to play a dark and still funny character in the midst of a pretty broad comedy. He is able to slide in and out of the action, and in many ways he’s the character most responsible for moving the plot along, and yet he doesn’t seem out of place in the film’s world.
As much as I enjoyed the film, it does have some serious flaws with how it’s structured. The first half is far, far funnier than the second half. If you’ve seen the trailer for this movie, you know that there’s a scene where Cam Brady inadvertently punches a baby. This is played out for fantastic effect, and immediate aftermath is perhaps even funnier. Unfortunately, this is about half-way through the movie, and it never gets back to anywhere near this level of humor again.
Maybe it’s a case of only being able to push the absurdity so-far before returns start diminishing, maybe it was just a matter of laughter-fatigue, but things aren’t as funny as the film goes along. I think that if things had been structured better this would have been less of a problem. The baby puch, for example, could have been switched with another similar incident later on and it might have been funnier. Certainly once you’ve punched a baby, anything else you punch probably won’t be as funny. This isn’t to say that the second half of the movie isn’t funny. For the most-part it is, but it doesn’t live up to the level the film establishes from the beginning. My only other problem with the film occurs towards the very end, when it starts to get preachy. This movie is broad and goofy, then all of a sudden starts to score specific political points, and it doesn’t work, but this only really becomes a problem at the very end of the movie, and can mostly be overlooked.
I liked this movie. It’s characters and scenarios were well-executed, creative, and flat-out funny. Its humor exceeded what was in the trailer. The first half of this movie was as funny as anything I’ve seen in a long long time, and, I was thinking that this movie was going to be a solid “must see.” Unfortunately, the film wasn’t able to keep it up through its full run-time, falling off considerably towards the end. It’s also towards the end that the film starts to take itself too seriously. The movie is a broad farce, that sometimes seems to think that it’s a satire. Those ideologically inclined to agree with a couple cheap shots at the end probably won’t even notice the distinction. That said, it is a good farce, and it was an enjoyable experience overall, definitely worth seeing.