Film review: The Campaign

GRAEME TUCKETT
Last updated 05:00 11/08/2012
The Campaign

ELECTION FATIGUE: Zack Galifianakis, left, and Will Ferrell, right, in The Campaign, that has occasional flashes of real wit.

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The Campaign (R16)(85 min)

Directed by Jay Roach.

Starring Will Ferrell, Zack Galifianakis.

We don't see much in the way of political satire in the multiplex anymore. Too cerebral, too talky, too reliant on an audience who have the faintest interest or knowledge of current events I guess.

Once in a while, in one of the cool little cinemas; the ones in which adults are trusted to behave as adults, and are even allowed to imbibe hot liquids or a glass of wine while they watch a film, maybe occasionally George Clooney will turn up in something involving men in suits being earnest and droll.

But they usually pass by more or less unnoticed, and we understand it's just Clooney giving vent to his actual self, before he goes back to his day job of pretending to be other people at $20 million a throw.

So The Campaign comes as a bit of a surprise. It is, beneath all the gross out gags and the ''Oh Gawd they actually went there'' moments, a real live political satire. Will Ferrell, who after years of merely enduring, I'm starting to become quiet fond of, is incumbent congressman Cam Brady.

Brady is thoroughly in the pocket of a couple of reptilian big-business types - Dan Ackroyd and John Lithgow, neither of them doing much more than turning up and cashing the cheque, unfortunately - happily having affairs with any aerobics instructor who'll have him, and married to a caricature of a political wife, all botox and ambition, who he knows will leave him in a heartbeat if she senses that his star is on the wane.

And then, into Cam's happy little orbit, comes Zach Galifianakis, a well-meaning utter doofus, unknowingly being set up to take Brady's seat by the same two tycoons who Brady still thinks have his back.

See, already there's an actual plot. At least, more of one than you would expect from almost any film with Will Ferrell on the poster. Not that there's any reason for Ferrell fans to stay away. In among the ideas, and the satire, and the occasional big word, there is still plenty of crassness, and a few moments that entirely warrant that R16 rating. But there's also a willingness in this film to occasionally go beyond Anchorman style so-stupid-it's-funny style jokes, and shoulder the responsibility of making a few points about a political climate so absurd it is surely almost beyond satirising.

And Ferrell and Galifianakis are the perfect pair to do this. Beneath the clowning and the deadpan gags, nobody could doubt that they are a couple of ferociously clever performers. In his very few 'straight' roles, Ferrell has always impressed, whereas  Galifianakis is a unique and unclassifiable talent; maybe the first of his generation who could match the work of a young Bill Murray.

Around them, The Campaign is enjoyable but uneven. There's plenty of laughs - including an ongoing gag involving a housemaid that is unalloyed comic genius - but the film never matches the inspired lunacy of Ferrell's best. The satire meanwhile, scores a few points, but is watered down by the film's apparent need to be funny from beginning to end. Still, I laughed many times, and I respected the occasional flashes of real wit.

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- The Dominion Post

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