Release Date: 28 September (UK)
Director: Jay Roach
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis
Screening Reviewed: London Press Screening
Reviewed by Henry Kelly
There is something incomparably alluring and appealing about two such prolific actors within their genre coming together on-screen for the first time, as we get in The Campaign. Although there are no doubt numerous examples, I cannot think of a film since Michael Mann’s Heat (1995) that has featured two such genre heavyweights making their screen debut together. With Heat we had two of the most acclaimed and well-loved crime movie actors in Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, and now, with The Campaign, Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell, not quite the same degree of legend perhaps, but nonetheless two of comedies most popular current performers. The fact the two actors haven't shared substantial screen time before helps make The Campaign an exciting proposition before it has even begun.
With a plot that parodies contemporary U.S politics, a North Carolina Congressman Cam Brady (Farrell) finds his usually unopposed ascent to power halted by a plucky newcomer to the political scene in the form of Marty Huggins (Galifianakis). What follows is an outrageous campaign for popularity with both hopefuls going to extreme lengths to discredit one another and curry favour with the fickle minded voters. It caricatures a cynical view of politics without hitching its horse on either side of the fence.
The success of the film comes in the narrative construction of pitting these two actors against each other for the fictional voters and our own attention. Being such comedy stalwarts and given Ferrell and Galifianakis’ many charismatic turns in previous films, audiences are likely to recognise and invest in these characters without the need for strong exposition.
The plot recognises this assumed investment and wastes little time in building the characters, instead using the bloated second act to drive the film to its natural conclusion -the result of the fictional election. Set pieces are thrown in one after the other with little dilution and some - such as a scene with a certain famous dog - are likely to have you laughing and frowning all at once.
There are attempts at more meaningful character development interspersed throughout the film, such as some more frank family scenes with Huggins, but these small touches play second fiddle to the elaborate comedy set-pieces. With Farrell and Galifianakis’ ability to improvise this was perhaps a wise choice from director Jay Roach as it allows the actors to do what they do best and absorb the audience’s attention while keeping their scripted duties to the plot minimal.
When the two actors come together on screen the results pulse with comedic energy, but the screen doesn't always seem endowed to handle the larger than life personalities and it is regretful that large portions of the film see the actors separated, particularly given the heavy promotional material seeing them pitched against one another, not to mention the film’s original title being Dog Fight.
This separation creates a back and forth flow that although entertaining, eventually begins to drag and wear thin without a more meaningful investment presented. The plot can feel incidental and almost disjointed, akin to a strung together series of comedy sketches, but towards the conclusion enters auto-pilot and completes the moral turnaround of its characters in typical fashion for a comedy film. The disinterested ending and set-pieces that go for the cheap laugh rather than biting satire show that ultimately any resonant or meaningful political commentary is not truly on The Campaign's agenda.
Having said this, the sensationalised one-note message of The Campaign is easy to digest (and possibly ignore) and by keeping the idea so wonderfully simple, The Campaign uses two great comedy performers in commendable fashion, giving them some great set-pieces and putting them in the ideal situation to deliver the laughs, and what more can really be asked of a film with such an intent?
If you’re a fan of either Farrell or Galifianakis, parodies (particularly at the expense of politics) or plain simply enjoy a laugh at the cinema, The Campaign is almost certain to get your vote.
(A)MUSINGS RATING - * * * (3 out of 5 stars)
Press Screening access for 'The Campaign' was provided by Substance 001 PR. (A)musings Media gratefully acknowledges their assistance and invitation.