The Campaign has a lot of genuine laughs. Too bad it doesn’t have enough to carry it over the finish line, a mere 85 minutes after it begins. The biggest mystery to me is how experienced comedy hands, on both sides of the camera, can allow their movie to end with a punchline joke that doesn’t get a laugh. (At least, it didn’t at the screening I attended…nor did it deserve to.)
This is all the more disappointing because The Campaign seems to have the right ingredients for a breezy, irreverent, R-rated comedy, well-timed for a Presidential election year. Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are ideal as a smug but stupid Congressman from North Carolina and his dark-horse competitor, who is utterly unequipped for the job, let alone the down-and-dirty campaign it requires.
Director Jay Roach knows how to make the most of the material. You may have seen some of the film’s funnier moments in the trailer and TV spots. The screenplay, by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, becomes repetitious after a while, bouncing back and forth from one candidate to the other as they perpetrate a series of tit-for-tat dirty tricks. The villains of the piece, fat-cat brothers who intend to plunder the district by putting a dummy in office to do their bidding, are obvious, uninventive characters that John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd could play in their sleep, and nearly do.
The truth is that Ferrell, Galifianakis and their writers are better served by short-form ideas like the ones they hatch so successfully on Funny or Die. Not every idea is fruitful enough to deserve a feature-length film, and this is one of them.
Audiences who are eager for laughs may rate this “good enough,” which is exactly the problem with movie comedies right now. We deserve better.