This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 12th August 2012
If you had to vote for Will Ferrell or Zach Galifianakis for the honour of “Funniest Guy”, you might find it tricky to choose between them.
Ferrell has been a bigger star for longer, eternally lauded ever since his lampooning of TV anchormen in The Legend of Ron Burgundy while showing greater dramatic range with the non-slapstick but terribly clever Stranger Than Fiction. Odds are if you love him, you love him.
But then there’s goofy old Zach. The embittered doofus in both Hangover movies. The irritating doofus from Due Date. And here the benevolent, well-meaning doofus who is thrown into the shark-infested North Carolina swamp of local politics to fight for a congressional seat. Against Ferrell. The charmer to charm all charmers.
Ferrell’s incumbent congressman, Camden Brady, has been running smugly uncontested for four terms. When evil businessmen the Motch brothers (how comforting to see the familiar but seemingly retired faces of John Lithgow and Dan Ackroyd again) decide to in-source Chinese labour to their southern state, they need a puppet. Assuming Marty Huggins is just such a sap, they offer Galifianakis’ high-waisted jeans-wearer the chance of a lifetime. Since Huggins simply wants to impress his unimpressible father (a typically curt Brian Cox, giving comedy and a southern drawl an equally half-hearted attempt), he grasps the opportunity to shine.
As with such star vehicles and its promise of belly laughs, the plot doesn’t need to stack up to much more than the ensuing rivalry and foul play. Similarly, the dialogue gets away with being pretty thin because it’s mostly politician-talk anyway. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud gags and clever cutaways (Huggins is forced to ditch his “un-American” dogs for retrievers that “poll better”, so the rejected pug faces make for easy laughs), along with Ferrell’s usual brash talk and salty language at inappropriate moments such as in church or at the campaign office. Interestingly, Galifianakis (adopting an unequivocally camp demeanour despite his character being happily married with two oafish sons) does not resort to potty mouth tactics, and frequently performs with pathos and authentic acting. His stout and plucky physicality is the perfect foil for the larger-than-life Ferrell we know and expect.
Director Jay Roach has a good sense of comic timing, delivering suitably short, punchy scenes: quick laugh, move on. Roach made his name in all the Austin Powers movies and the two decent Meet the Parents films (I prefer to forget the pointless failure of Dinner for Schmucks). No doubt Brian Cox signed on thinking he’d go for a Robert De Niro career twist, which doesn’t quite work. But aside from this casting misstep and relegating Jason Sudeikis (Horrible Bosses, Hall Pass) to the sidelines, Roach wrangles his cast well.
The problem is, while bursting at the seams with great ingredients, The Campaign is not quite the sum of its parts. It’s a good enough night out but it’ll be some other movie in which we see these comedic athletes really put through the paces we know they can handle