The problem with situation comedy movies in general — and Will Ferrell vehicles such as The Campaign in particular — is that they usually fizzle out after the first 30 minutes. Two-dimensional characters are established and a grab bag of inspired gags is emptied before a go-to director like Jay Roach (the Austin Powers series, Dinner for Schmucks) enables it to limp to the finish line. It’s no different with Zach Galafianakis onboard as the swishy challenger to Ferrell’s incumbent North Carolina congressman, although the chemistry between the two is worth exploring further.
It just wasn’t explored adequately here. Ferrell’s Cam Brady is a fairly clueless lout barely kept in line by his campaign manager (Jason Sudeikis). His platform of “America, Jesus, Freedom … support our troops!” resonates with his constituents, but his misconduct opens the door for the Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd, John Lithgow) to run their own candidate, Marty Huggins (Galafianakis). Marty is the town’s pug-walking, one-man tour guide and the son of a tough-talking political powerbroker (Brian Cox) who tells Marty he looks like a hobbit crapped out by Richard Simmons. That’s the humorous high point, sometime before the 30-minute mark.
There is an election to hang the rest of the movie against, though, and a subplot involving the Motch brothers turning the congressional district into a little piece of China. Marty is tempted by power, like a mustachioed Frodo, and Cam begins a downward spiral after gaffes involving a baby and Uggie, the dog from The Artist. Cam is not too far removed from Ferrell’s Dubya, but Marty’s fey family man feels like a substitute hastily drawn after Steve Carrell turned down the role. Then again, a joke surrounding the nickname “Tickleshits” could only have been conceived for Galifianakis. Regardless, don’t expect The Campaign 2: Recount. MATT KELEMEN