Sunday, 31 March 2013



You'd think that the absurdities of American politics and electioneering would be a rich and fertile pasture for satire: a seam of pure comedic gold where little needs to be done beyond pointing and it and laughing derisively. Even allowing for the differences between American and British politics, enough of the joke should surely travel. The trouble with this knockabout comedy is not that the joke doesn't translate: on the contrary, it does, but it's piss-weak by the time it gets here. Yet again, for all the visible effort and for all the onscreen talent (significantly omitting the two leads), it just isn't funny. And strangely, the biggest indicator of just how completely it fails lies in the casting of Dan Aykroyd.

The Campaign is another Will Ferrell movie in which he's an idiotic blowhard, following on from the likes of Anchorman (which got by on its period detail) and Talladega Nights (which got by on Sasha Baron Cohen doing a gay Frenchman stereotype). This time he's a North Carolina congressman, expecting to waltz through the imminent election unopposed and shocked to find Zach Galifianakis as an effeminate tour guide standing against him. But he's really been put up to the job by evil zillionaires Aykroyd and John Lithgow who want to turn the district into a Chinese sweatshop so they can save on shipping costs for their cheap junk as well as the slave wages for the immigrant labour force. Can they break away from their asinine bickering and cheap smear tactics to do what's right for their town, not just their careers and their shadowy overlords?

The problem with the movie doesn't directly lie with Aykroyd, of course: he's a veteran comedy pro and the scenes with him and Lithgow are a joy, easily the best things on offer. But what he does is bring to mind Trading Places, the infinitely funnier 1984 comedy in which events are manipulated by greedy rich bastards for their own financial benefit, and to hell with the peasantry. This time round he's one of the manipulators rather than the hapless victim crushed in their dastardly schemes, but The Campaign suffers badly from the comparison. Ferrell and Galifianakis simply aren't up to the level of Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy (certainly not the Murphy of 1985): there's no wit in the script or the unlikeable characters, and the result is that you just want them both to lose. Lithgow and Aykroyd, meanwhile, aren't in it nearly enough and I could happily watch a whole movie of just those two scheming and plotting.

Meanwhile the opportunity to mine the satirical seam of American politics is lost in the need for Ferrell to do his usual shouty schtick and Galifianakis to be intensely irritating, without either of them coming within spitting distance of actual laughs. It's not very edifying and really it's hardly worth the effort. And it's got a cameo from Piers Morgan, for God's sake. (There are two cuts on the Blu, I went with the Theatrical rather than the Politically Incorrect Extended version because it's ten minutes shorter and life doesn't last forever.)


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