I watched 'The Campaign' as part of a political double feature that concluded with the final 2012 Presidential Debate, and together they both offered an enlightening contrast. One featured an entertaining, comedic battle between two hilarious men who spent about ninety minutes saying silly things while they tried to one-up each other through sarcastic quips and one-liners. The other is a comedy starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. Zing! All kidding aside, it's clear that Warner Brothers is well aware of the timely nature of this disc's release, and as we all gear up to vote on November 6th, a goofy political comedy does seem like a solid antidote to all of the partisan conflict and tension in the air. Unfortunately, the on-screen battle between Ferrell and Galifianakis leaves a bit to be desired, and while there are some snickers to be had, most of the running time is disappointingly uninspired and one-note. To be honest, I think I actually laughed harder at President Obama's zingers than the comedians'.
After a scandal causes North Carolina congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) to lose his appeal among voters, a new challenger arises to make a play for his position. Backed by the powerful and corrupt Motch Brothers (John Lithgow & Dan Aykroyd), the unlikely Marty Huggins (Zack Galifianakis) enters the race and soon draws a healthy following. With Election Day growing closer, the campaign becomes increasingly elaborate and mean-spirited, forcing each candidate to try and one-up the other's dirty tricks and mudslinging. As lies are told and babies are punched, both men begin to question their tactics, and when the Motch Brothers' true motivations are revealed, they'll have to decide where their real loyalties rest.
Ferrell and Galifiankis make for a reasonably entertaining duo, but their pairing isn't as gut-busting as one might hope. Ferrell's Cam Brady is essentially a loose blend of typical Bill Clinton and George W. Bush parodies, along with a generous helping of every other "strong" haired politician. An immature, clueless womanizer, Brady fits right at home among the comedian's growing pantheon of man-child personas. While I'm usually a fan of this kind of shtick, I must admit that Ferrell's approach here feels uninspired, resulting in a disappointingly broad and generic character that never really differentiates himself from the actor's many similar creations. Don't get me wrong, Ferrell can certainly be funny in the role, but Brady lacks the extra comedic spark that makes characters like Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby so memorable.
When I first saw the trailer for 'The Campaign,' I wasn't very impressed with Zach Galifianakis' overtly bizarre character. His silly voice and odd mannerisms seemed liked they'd be more annoying than funny. Thankfully, after watching the actual film, I've warmed up quite a bit to Marty Huggins (and his "Chinese" dogs). An odd, faintly creepy, yet genuinely wholesome figure, Huggins is a pretty unique creation. Unlike Ferrell's classic politician caricature, Huggins' quirky, naive affability is completely at odds with the world of politics. His fish-out-of-water conflict leads to some solid laughs, and while the character can indeed become a little annoying, Galifianakis is convincing and amusing in the role.
As one might expect, the script features some light political satire, taking several humorous jabs at the campaign process. Farcical debates, rallies, and campaign ads all highlight the comical hypocrisy and superficiality of politics. The candidates have no actual policies or stances on issues. They simply resort to speaking loudly through zingers, slogans, buzzwords, and false associations. With that said, the movie avoids any real attempts at truly biting political commentary. Instead, the filmmakers' opt for a much sillier approach, exaggerating the situations to ridiculous levels that expand the comedy to broader appeal.
While I'm a fan of the film's decidedly goofy sense of humor, whether politically geared or more random in nature, a lot of the comedy fails to really engage. Much like my own joke in the opening paragraph, the movie' gags feel obvious and tired. Sure, there are laughs to be had here, including a fun scene where Huggins' family admits to a series of increasingly deprave acts, a treatise against the communist nature of "Rainbowland," and an amusing shout-out to 'The Artist,' but by and large the comedy is all fairly forgettable. The premise has a lot of potential, but the candidate's elaborate campaign tactics are surprisingly uninspired and far too familiar. Though some attempts at crude, shock humor are decent, even baby punching and kinky campaign sex tapes prove to be rather unmemorable.
Likewise, the film's Chinese conspiracy subplot never really clicks, and John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, and Brian Cox are all wasted in lifeless roles (though Dylan McDermott's intense campaign manager character is a highlight). The third act also introduces some tacked on sweetness in an attempt to alleviate the mean-spirited tone that pervades much of the running time (a common tactic in many contemporary comedies), and while similar strategies have worked well in other films, here it just feels forced, formulaic, and artificial.
Of course, the most disappointing aspect of the movie is the unexpectedly ho-hum pairing of its stars. On paper their coupling seems like a no-brainer, but despite their solid chemistry, the on-screen clashing of Ferrell and Galifiankis is surprisingly mundane. Their battle of idiocy never really hits a strong comedic stride, and while isolated bits are funny, their rivalry never completely jells. What should have been an obvious recipe for hilarity, instead ends up being a mediocre source of familiar jokes and sporadic laughs.
'The Campaign' has its moments, but the flick mostly feels like a missed opportunity. With a stronger script, I could see the premise resulting in a pretty hilarious comedy. Unfortunately, the material we get here is too uneven and unoriginal. There is some refreshingly goofy lampooning of politics, but the broad approach is mostly forgettable. While Galifianakis and Ferrell bounce off each other well enough, their characters' conflict is unexpectedly dull, and the whole movie is very one-note. Still, there are some intermittent laughs to be had, and fans of both comedians, and fellow citizens who are itching for this campaign season to finally be over, should find some mild entertainment value here.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Brothers presents 'The Campaign' in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo Pack. A BD-50 disc is housed in a keepcase with a cardboard slipcover. An additional DVD copy and an insert with instructions for a downloadable UltraViolet digital copy are also included. The Blu-ray disc contains the theatrical and extended cut of the film which adds about eleven minutes of additional material. The most substantial additions in the longer cut are a faintly amusing extension of the snake bite scene and a Piers Morgan interview with Will Ferrell's character. After some skippable trailers, the disc transitions to a standard menu.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Despite the silly content, this is actually a very impressive video presentation filled with strong detail and vibrant colors.
The digital source is mostly clean and artifact free, with only some minor noise and shimmering visible in a few shots. Clarity is exceptional, showcasing a sharp image that reveals a great sense of fine detail. Everything from facial features on characters, to the tiny patterns on Galifianakis' silly sweaters, comes through clearly and distinctly. Colors veer toward an oversaturated look with incredibly (but unrealistically) vivid blues, reds, and greens. While the visual content is fairly modest, a few outdoor locations are actually quite striking with pleasing pop and life-like dimension. Whites are high without overpowering the image, and black levels are inky and steady throughout.
Sharp, bright, and colorful, 'The Campaign' looks very strong on Blu-ray. The oversaturated aesthetic might not be very natural looking, but the intense colors work well with the exaggerated comedy and characters.
The film is presented with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track, and a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Optional English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles are also available. Punchy and crisp, this is an all around lively and well balanced track.
Speech is full-bodied and well prioritized throughout, making it easy to hear all of Ferrell and Galifianakis' silly quips and improvisations. The soundstage features a solid sense of space, spreading ambient and directional effects around the room. The rowdy audiences and snapping cameras at the debates and rallies come from all sides, and nature sounds like crickets chirping and frogs croaking create a decent level of atmosphere in outdoor sequences. The energetic soundtrack comes through with great fidelity and separation, sending distinct music cues to the front and rear speakers. Dynamic range is wide, and while bass isn't exactly room-shaking, the score and song selection feature clean, even-handed LFE response.
The mix isn't a real standout, but the track is home to a solid sense of immersion and is free of any notable technical issues. Viewers shouldn't expect demo material, but for a goofy political comedy, the audio is more than adequate.
Warner Bros. has provided a very slim set of special features. All of the extras are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.
Despite the seemingly fun pairing of Galifianakis and Ferrell, 'The Campaign' is a surprisingly uninspired and mundane comedy. The blend of broad political satire and goofy, raunchy humor leads to some decent laughs, but they're far too infrequent, and too many of the jokes feel like recycled bits from the comedians' previous efforts. The video transfer is actually really impressive, offering sharp detail and vivid colors, and the audio mix is strong. Supplements are disappointing, however, with only a few deleted scenes and some faintly amusing outtakes. While the film mostly feels like a missed opportunity, it's still worth a rental, and might make a fun watch for those looking to decompress from the insanity of the campaign season.