Throughout his decade and a half as an established director, Jay Roach has become known for two types of movies. Mainstream audiences know him best for star-studded comedies like “Austin Powers” and “Meet the Parents.” In recent years, Roach has also demonstrated momentous range as a filmmaker with HBO political pictures like “Recount” and “Game Change.” In “The Campaign,” both sides of Roach come together to produce a political satire. Sadly, the film is mostly deprived of the sidesplitting humor of Roach’s comedies and the incite of his governmental dramas. His conclusive product is a disappointment on both fronts.
Will Ferrell is Cam Brady, an egotistical, womanizing congressman who has been running unopposed for the past several terms. After Brady leaves a controversial message on an answering machine, his approval ratings begin to decline. The Motch brothers, two wealthy CEO’s played by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd, decide that they want to get Brady out of office so they can manipulate someone more naïve and likable in the eyes of the public. Enter Zach Galifianakis as Marty Huggins, a tacky family man that looks and sounds a lot like a pedophile.
At their best, Ferrell and Galifianakis can be among the funniest men on the planet. In this film, they are saddled with characters that are weird, creepy, awkward, and almost make Herman Cain look sane. One thing that they aren’t, however, is funny. These characters might be suitable for a five-minute sketch on “Saturday Night Live,” especially since Ferrell was always so brilliant as George W. Bush. At roughly 90 minutes though, Brady and Huggins get really tired, really quickly.
Much like Roach’s last comedy, “Dinner for Schmucks,” “The Campaign” tries far too hard to win over its audience. Everybody in the movie, which also includes Jason Sudeikis as Brady’s campaign manager and Brian Cox as Huggins’ racist father, is essentially a cartoon. “The Campaign” should have taken a page from “In the Loop,” another satire about incompetent individuals who managed to achieve political power. The reason that comedy worked was because the humor was mostly subtle and the characters were surprisingly believable. In “The Campaign,” every joke and every person is constantly in your face, rarely allowing a moment to breath.
Just a couple months ago, Sacha Baron Cohen’s “The Dictator” came out. Neither that political satire nor “The Campaign” quite met their potential. But at least “The Dictator” had enough solid laughs to merit one sit through. “The Campaign” does have a few humorous moments, such as when Huggins’ kids make several confessions at the dinner table.
A majority of the jokes fall flat though, leaving the entire auditorium silent for large periods of time. There is one instance late in the picture that tries to work in an admirable message about the honesty of politicians. But by this point, the effort is too little, too late. If you’re looking for a smarter and funnier R-rated comedy to see this weekend, you’re better off checking out “Ted.” Even if you’re among the countless millions who have already seen “Ted,” watching that film a repeated time will merit more laughs than seeing “The Campaign” once.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.