I don’t know why I am surprised when a feature film proves to be little more than an extension of its trailer. It happened with The Dictator and it’s happened again with The Campaign. I realize that we live in a disposable world and movies—though they cost a lot to make and market—are definitely part of that easily discarded culture. But still…
Let me begin by saying I actually laughed during this movie. Not a polite smile or a discreet chuckle, this was full-on I-cannot-believe-they-just-did-that laughter. But I also felt like I had just watched a slightly long episode of a comedy show made for television when the end credits rolled.
I read recently (can’t remember where, sorry) that there are only so many different ways you can end a movie, so there is huge room for disappointment there. Which is why it is more important for a screenwriter or a filmmaker to concentrate on how (s)he opens a movie.
The Campaign opens simply enough, with four-time Congressman Brady (Ferrell) making a version of the same speech to different groups around his district. It is only when he hooks up with one of his constituents in a portable toilet that things take a turn for the memorable. He follows up that rendezvous with a salacious message left on the wrong answering machine (talk about a wrong number!). This message drops Brady’s approval rating by 16 points but he’s not worried because he is running unopposed. Until the Motch Brothers, two behind the scenes string-pulling businessmen with vested interests (played by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd), decide to put another horse in the race.
This horse is a pug-loving kook named Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), the black sheep in a family of achievers headed by the curmudgeonly Ray Huggins (Brian Cox). Marty has an equally weird family of his own and all of them find themselves slap-bang in the middle of a political race in which the veteran Brady is the favourite to win, by several miles. This is politics, so naturally things get a lot uglier before anything gets better. This section is also where most of the funny occurs.
The movie makes some interesting points about secrets, lies, and the difference between what politicians say and what they actually mean. I suppose it says so much that the story of a four-time Congressman being served some competition devolves into little more than two grown men trading schoolyard barbs and girlish punches? I suppose Mr. Ferrell’s presence guarantees a broad comedy. I suppose Mr. Galifianakis’s presence puts the double seal of approval on that guarantee. Director Jay Roach previously helmed the Austin Powers trilogy (as well as two of the three Fockers movies) so we know he is experienced in bringing the funny.
Were comedies always this thin and I never noticed before? I don’t know for sure. All I know is that I came away from The Campaign amused, and a little disappointed.