The Campaign unites Will Ferrell with Zach Galifianakis, and the way comedy works these days, it’s a surprise they haven’t work together sooner. They play opposing candidates in a local election that gets ramped up by petty rivalries and the influence of big money, and turns two reasonable guys into monsters. And it’s funny. 

The Players:

The Plot:

Cam Brady (Ferrell) has been running unopposed for his North Carolina senate seat for years, but his latest couple of slip-ups (namely calling a church going family and leaving a filthy message for his mistress), makes him look vulnerable to the Motch Brothers (Lithgow, Aykroyd), who use their riches to influence politics to benefit them. They draft a candidate in Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), and hook him up with a an image makeover counselor (McDermott). From there the fight is on.

The Good:

  • Funny: All one ever wants from a comedy is a couple of good laughs, and this has plenty. It’s fair to say that the leads are playing roles familiar to them, but they still know how to deliver in those situations, and both are on top of their game. But the stealth weapon of the film is McDermott, who kills in every scene he’s in.
  • Teeth: The filmmaker make no secret that they’re talking about how politics are run, and how superPACs have a huge sway over how a American politics. What’s interesting though is that Ferrell is playing the Democrat, and Galifianakis is playing the Republican – they don’t go for easy lay-ups most of the time, and on some level the labels aren’t what’s important or being discussed. The framework is Frank Capra, without question, but it’s an R-rated version of that sort of thing, and honestly, it says more about politics that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
  • Short: Way too many movies these days are bloated as all get out, even comedies. One of the great things about The Campaign is that it runs about 90 minutes, and you feel like you’re getting a full meal.

The Bad:

  • Broad: Some jokes work, others just take things a little too far. There’s a good payoff to one joke where Cam Brady gets so insulted by what Marty’s done that he makes overtones to Marty’s wife to get revenge. Part of the joke is that Marty and his family are all overweight, and so it gets close to making a fat woman the butt of the joke.
  • Familiar: Part of the reason why the movie works is because you can trust the performers to do what they do best, but nothing they do is all that dissimilar to some of their most famous characters. Cam Brady is essentially Ferrell’s Bush impression, while Galifianakis is doing a modified version of his brother Seth character. This isn’t the worst thing, but it takes a while for the film to do anything new.

Overall:

A nice relief from some of the less interesting films this summer, The Campaign is tight and smart – even if it does sometimes make a misstep here or there. It’s easily the best comedy of the summer, and it’s one of the best mainstream movies of the year.

Rating: 8.4/10

The Campaign opens in theaters August 10.

Photos:

Trailer: