Images Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Will Ferrell movies are like the cinematic equivalent of eating a Big Mac at McDonalds. Both are cheap, greasy, and reliable. In Ferrell’s newest comedic outing The Campaign, the actor plays Cam Brady a long time North Carolina Congressman who lives life by the mantra: America, Jesus, and Freedom. After the naïve director of North Carolina’s 14th district Tourism Center (Zach Galifianakis) joins the congress race, political hi-jinx ensues for the remainder of this fast moving 85-minute flick. While The Campaign is not a perfect film, or comedy for that matter, it is entertaining. Just like McDonalds has been able to find the perfect Big Mac combination in their catchy and tasty ingredient list of two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onion, all on a sesame seed bun, The Campaign has successfully mixed just the right amount of political commentary with senseless gag humor to satisfy a comedy craving that has taken the entire Summer to curb. Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill, Vince Vaughn, and aliens of the universe should be ashamed of last month’s The Watch, but that is a complete digression.
Will Ferrell has had an interesting relationship with the film world over the past few years. Every year since 2009, the Saturday Night Live alumni has been ranked amongst the top five most over-paid actors in Hollywood according to Forbes, and in 2011, the magazine noted that for every $1 the actor was paid, the company responsible for distributing his films only saw a $3.5 return at the box office. When you compare these numbers to the $1.3 billion Daniel Radcliffe brought in last year at the box office, Ferrell’s recent performances look even more lackluster. The biggest difference between these two actors, however, is consistency. In an over twenty-year career, Will Ferrell has had seven $100+ million dollar grossing movies, and a bunch more when international totals are incorporated. Ferrell has worked with all of the comedic greats, and in his first major Hollywood role since The Other Guys (2010), the comedian has struck comedic gold yet again. This time around, Ferrell teams up with the still up-and-coming comedian Zach Galifianakis. Just like Jay-Z collaborated with Kanye West last year for the Watch The Thrones album, Ferrell and Galifianakis provide comedic hit after hit every time they grace the silver screen together. In a perfect example of this budding on-screen comedic friendship, there is a great scene early in the film when Ferrell’s Cam Brady character battles Galifianakis’ Marty Huggins in their first political debate. As the two make their way to their respective podiums, they meet in the middle for a friendly handshake. What starts out as pleasant, however, quickly turns hilariously awry after both politicians try to get inside each other’s heads through various forms of trash talking.
Another plus for the film is that Ferrell and Galifianakis have the added benefit of sharing the screen with a great supporting cast. In addition to performances by Jason Sudekis, John Lithgow, and Dan Aykroyd, the movie also has perfectly interwoven cameos from John Goodman, news figures such as: Wolf Blitzer, Piers Morgan, Bill Maher, Dennis Miller, and even a recurring gag that incorporates Uggie, the dog from last year’s Oscar winning film The Artist. When an actor like Ferrell has been in the industry as long as he has, somewhere along the way contacts are made with just about everyone… apparently reaching all the way to the dog handler responsible for Uggie.
While the best Will Ferrell movies are still the ones that have been directed by Adam McKay (Anchorman and Step Brothers), Jay Roach, the director behind this film does a fantastic job filling McKay’s boots. Roach, who won an Emmy for the political made-for-TV HBO dramedy “Recount”, does an excellent job harnessing the slapstick style humor Ferrell and Galifianakis are known for all while still establishing a recurring string of political satire. In a few scenes that clearly articulate the melding of these two very different styles of comedy, Galifianakis’ character goes through a complete personal and emotional transformation in order to morph himself from a feminine tour guide to a masculine political figure. These scenes manage to both capture Galifianakis’ now token mannerisms (like his unique style of walking) with political satire, like the need to scrap the family’s Chinese Pug dogs for American Golden Retrievers. The ability to successfully mix slapstick with the satire in the way Roach does actually ends up benefiting both styles of humor. The slapstick comes off as being more highbrow, and in the end, the viewer realizes just how ridiculous on screen presence and image effects poll statistics are during elections. Just ask Nixon.
By the time the end credits begin to roll, however, it becomes obvious that even though the humor Ferrell and Galifianakis muster up when they share the screen is enjoyable, their solo work in the film still evokes the most laughs. Although Ferrell and Galifianakis are two talented comedic forces that flourish well together, they don’t push one another to higher heights when combined. As far as this comparison goes, if Ferrell is King and Galifianakis prince, Ferrell should definitely keep an eye on his throne because while his characters never seem to change from movie to movie, Galifianakis’ recent roles have shown that the actor can play much more than just Alan from The Hangover. But lets face it, if either one of these actors found themselves catapulted back in time, they both would end up being court jesters.
By David Morris