Mania Review: The Campaign - Mania.com



Mania Grade: B

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  • Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Katherine La Nasa, Dylan McDermott, Sarah Baker, Brian Cox, John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd
  • Written by: Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell
  • Directed by: Jay Roach
  • Studio: Warner Bros
  • Rating: R
  • Run Time: 85 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: The Campaign

Are we heading towards this, or are we already there?

By Rob Vaux     August 10, 2012

 I laughed a lot during The Campaign and that’s all that really matters. It tackles more than you might expect from an August comedy, then stumbles in its efforts to really drive its point home. But it scores some priceless moments in the process, and with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis leading the way, you can be assured of spewing soda out of your nose at least three or four times. 

The pity is that it can’t do more than that, because it clearly wants to. Our cynical political times have produced a number of acerbic takes on what we laughingly refer to as “the democratic process,” from shows like Veep and Political Animals to films like The Ides of March. The Campaign endeavors to join their ranks, and from time to time scores a real bullseye. But its inherent darkness clashes badly with the needs of a mainstream comedy, demanding a neat resolution where more pessimism is required. It turns a satire of Bulworth potential into a mere summer gigglefest: funny, but not nearly as biting as it could be.

None of that matters when the two leads get their mojo working. Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a randy Congressman running unopposed for his fifth term. Galifianakis plays Marty Huggins, a good-hearted oddball thrown into the race when a naughty phone call lands the previously unstoppable Brady in hot water with the voters. The proverbial wacky mayhem ensues.

The straightforward scenario keeps the humor razor-sharp, with the two actors doing what they do best and various supporting actors landing effortlessly solid blows. Chief among them are Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow, playing barely disguised versions of the Koch brothers. The best moment, however, goes to Karen Maruyama, whose shtick had me gasping for air on the theater floor before The Campaign replays it a few times too many.

Director Jay Roach refuses to quit on many of his concepts, a sign of desperation for many comedies. Here, however, it results in payoff after payoff, as seemingly innocuous near-misses morph into outrageous guffaws over and over again.  The Campaign also walks a tricky balance between political relevance and universal appeal. It specifies the candidates’ political affiliations (Ferrell’s the Democrat, Galifianakis the Republican), but it hardly matters. As the film adroitly points out, both sides dance to the tune of big money, and their various positions serve as mere distractions for the real problems that their puppetmaster have no interest in solving. The target is the system itself rather than liberals or conservatives, a choice that helps the film resonate across red state and blue alike.

You can see it best in the leads. Farrell, so well-known for his George Bush impression, adroitly channel’s Bill Clinton’s wandering eye… as well has his penchant for preposterous excuses. Galifianakis is much sweeter: a kindly square peg forced to transform into a soulless drone for the sake of victory. He carries the dreadful cost of politics on his shoulders, and for a time even finds some real tragedy in his character’s situation.

Would that The Campaign could capture that feeling for the whole of its running time. Unfortunately, it runs into a serious problem towards the end, when the need to follow through with its dark focus versus the desire to leave us with a smile on our faces. As the big election looms and he needs to wrap things up, Roach ultimately loses his nerve. He opts for climactic confessions and the easy punishment of wrongdoers rather than going for the throat the way he really should.

That doesn’t matter with a film this funny. We watch, we laugh, and if it runs a bit too long for comfort (even at a spare 85 minutes), what of it? In the dregs of August, we ask only for a little entertainment, which The Campaign delivers in spades. Indeed, with the presidential campaign in high gear, it can help us endure the ridiculous gaffes, the mudslinging and the other attendant insanity with a little more grace.  But it had something more in its hands. As a filmmaker, Roach has matured with some sharp looks at our political situation (the HBO movies Game Change and Recount are both his), and he could have brought more of that insight to this project. We’ll take what he gives us here; we only wish he could have given us a little more. 

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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flyinroo 8/10/2012 5:08:09 AM

 I love love Will Ferrell movies. But I avoid political movies since they usually lean heavily to one side and attack the other. Seeing that this stays in the middle, I might actually see this one.

jedibanner 8/10/2012 5:26:33 AM

I hate hate Will Ferrell Movies, one of the worst actors in the world (and so not funny IMO).

I usually love political movies so...this will be a rental at best.

MrEt 8/10/2012 5:34:27 AM

Finaly a film that is so awesome it will take the Bat down from #1,,,, jk

spiderhero 8/10/2012 5:36:51 AM

The dregs of summer huh? Pass. I wouldn't even rent this. Zack G. just is not funny.

I'm going to go see Bourne. Should be the cherry on top of the summer cake.

almostunbiased 8/10/2012 6:33:14 AM

I'll see Bourne as well.  Though I might check this out on Netflix when it gets there.  Oh and saw Total Recall with my wife yesterday.  I was shocked that she really liked it.  I also did which also kind of surprised me.  A lot of the negative reviews to me must have been either people who didn't follow it, though I'm not sure how as it was very simple, or people who just hated it because the plot was too simple, or maybe people that couldn't stand the idea that it was a remake, or that it really wasn't a remake and it wasn't like the book either.  IDK but it was definitely a fun movie.  Oh and I saw no PLOT holes at all.  Everything made sense.  That said obviously it is filled with scientific imposibilities, but those are not plot holes.  Anyway I'm happy I watched it.  I watched the Arnold version the night before.  I think I still like that more as it was just more clever, but my wife never saw that version so she thought this was clever enough I guess.

almostunbiased 8/10/2012 7:04:17 AM

NEGATIVE REVIEWS FOR TOTAL RECALL:
“"Total Recall" is a toned-down, smoothed-out version of an amped-up, bug-eyed classic.” – a comparison.  That sounds like a compliment to me, and yet he gave it a poor rating.


“Whatever tug Total Recall has on the imagination comes from the vague sense we've seen it all before. And seen it better: from Christopher Nolan's Inception to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner.” – a comparison.  Sure those movies were better.  They are in no way close to the plot of this movie so no clue why he compared them.


“... features an imaginative futuristic vision compromised by a convoluted script that takes itself too seriously.”  - WTH does that even mean?  Convoluted?  Not at all, it was not a complicated script.  Is there some mysteries that need to be solved in the story (if you haven’t seen the movie before), sure, but no more than the first version.  And why shouldn’t it take it self seriously, it’s not a comedy.  That’s petty.


“the heavy-lidded Farrell makes perfect sense as the futureworld Rip Van Winkle ... the robot army could have marched in from a 'Star Wars' clone. I'd gladly trade it for an exploding Fat Lady and a Johnnycab” – LOL okay the Johnnycab brought a smile to my face, but again another comparison.  STAR WARS, why cause they were white and black, hmmmm what are most police cars painted.  Maybe Our own police are copying Star Wars.


I could go on and on, but my point is this isn’t a remake.  The main plot though starting off the same is different.  This is a reimagining of the story.  Neither movie really follows the book and I think that’s good as the short story was kind of anticlimactic to begin with.  But look at what these critics say and I think if this was the first time this movie was made the reviews would be much higher.  I think this just became a movie to bash.  There are numerous reviewers who also rip on the acting, which I thought was fine (notice I didn’t say amazing).


Was this a great movie, NO, was it a decent movie and deserves more than a 31%, I think so.  I’d give it a C at least.


Here’s a few more that pissed me off:


“The original Total Recall never laid any claim to being a more accurate PKD adaptation, but at least there was a sense of humor to even out its ludicrous premise.”
“A two-hour chase film but an intriguing one where human figures get blended into a fast-moving digital world.” – how is that even negative.
“Where Paul Verhoeven's original was testosterone-stupid and, therefore, fun, Wiseman's film is just boring-stupid.”
Do these critics even know what their saying?
 

almostunbiased 8/10/2012 7:09:40 AM

Oh and sorry I did this here, and sorry for the rant, just get tired of the comparisons and knee-jerk reactions to remakes and reimaginings.

MrJawbreakingEquilibrium 8/10/2012 7:46:43 AM

I just hate when people praise movies like the original as these classic masterpieces - when they clearly weren't THAT GOOD and then when they describe and criticize the remakes with the same things that the originals are faulty of like they ignore the original's faults. 

goirish83 8/10/2012 8:15:17 AM

 We have a review for "The Campaign" but no review for Bourne ???  Since when were Will Ferrall movies in the genre of this site ??

And Will Ferrell basically plays the same character in all his movies. That routine became boring about 5 of his movies ago.  

@almostunbiased, I agree 100% with you.  Total Recall was not as bad as the reviews.  The problem is that there are too many sheep that believe whatever Rob writes and takes it as gospel, I never listen to reviews, I rather judge for myself.  Look at all the posters here that bashed it after reading Rob's review.  Amazing.  

InnerSanctum 8/10/2012 10:15:28 AM

 I'm much more interested in seeing the Campagin than Bourne.  I've seen Bourne.  Three times.  This just feels like a money grab (and, he is an enhanced "super soldier" to boot.)  The Campagin looks like some legitimate fun.  

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