In 10 Words or Less
It's not funny because it's true
Loves: Will Ferrell, Zack Galifianakis
Likes: Barack Obama, Jason Sudekis, political satire
Dislikes: Mitt Romney
Hates: Modern politics, superPACs, Citizens United
The Campaign arrives on Blu-Ray in the final days of the 2012 election campaigns, which may be the worst possible time for it. If you can find a person who isn't tired of politics, they're probably unlikely to enjoy a movie dedicated to making fun of it. Worse yet, there's little in this movie that more ridiculous than the elections unfolding in reality. After all, no one inThe Campaign makes a comment like "legitimate rape" while still maintaining the support of their party and remaining an electable candidate. Some things are just beyond a suspension of disbelief outside of American politics.
Instead of making ignorant statements that fly in the face of science and morality, Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is an unapologetic serial adulterer and professional politician, who accomplishes little in Washington while somehow getting elected four times and running unopposed for a fifth term. When trailers first arrived for the film, it seemed like Ferrell was playing the stereotypical Republican lawmaker, but in a change, he's playing a John Edwards-like Democrat. It's Zack Galifianakis who wears the Republican red, playing Marty Huggins, a sweetly optimistic small-town guy drafted by the evil Motch brothers (Dan Ackroyd and John Lithgow) to be their pawn in a plan to turn Huggins' small North Carolina town into a North American version of China's sweatshops. It would be a hilarious satire of the Koch brothers' nefarious plan to fill Congress and the White House with Republicans in order to further their corporation-friendly plan for America (not to mention a decent homage to Ackroyd's Trading Places), if it weren't so true to reality.
Joining the race late in the game, aided by the Motches' hired-gun operative Wattley (Dylan McDermott), Huggins' straight-forward, if slightly naive style puts Brady on the defensive, and the stress of possibly losing his cushy job after years of floating through governmental life lets Ferrell unleash his trademark brand of madness. Guided by his own campaign manager (Jason Sudekis) and spurred on by his conniving, status-worshipping wife (Katherine LaNasa), Brady cooks up increasingly worse schemes to get ahead in the election, including a ridiculous seduction of Marty's wife (Sarah Baker.) Going back and forth in a series of attacks and parries, the two conduct a pair of campaigns that would be a mockery of electioneering, if the real-life races out there weren't even worse. Some of the over-the-top actions in the movie have even come to be reflected in the Republican presidential campaign, including growing American flag lapel pins and party backers manufacturing voting machines.
Being unable to be the fiction that can overcome the strangeness of truth doesn't prevent The Campaign from being entertaining though. It would be rather difficult to create a film starring Ferrell and Galifianakis, not to mention the supporting cast and cameos from Jack McBrayer and John Goodman, that's not funny. Fun set pieces like a trash-talking face-off between the candidates, Sudekis guiding Ferrell through the Lord's prayers via charades and the oft-seen baby-punching scene (as well as a subsequent sequel) will all get laughs, but they are stop-offs throughout the length of the film, rather than funny scenes that advance the story. When Marty asks his family if there are any secrets he needs to know about, thus setting off a laundry list of top-this gags, you could easily cut the scene from the film and the story would suffer no problems. That's fine once in a while, but it seems like the funniest scenes are also the least necessary. Perhaps that why the ending feels both perfectly in sync with the movie and completely off-tune, as it wraps up the story, but doesn't feel like it belongs in terms of humor or characterization.
If there's one place where the film felt like it was going to find its legs and really become the satire it could have been, it's during a town-hall debate, where Brady is attacked as a socialist for something he wrote as a child. Reading those words, it seems insane to think that could be a part of a first-world society's political process, but is what we've seen in regards to the Right's attacks on Barack Obama too far off of that kind of ludicrousness? That Huggins and company can whip the people of North Carolina into a frenzy over an elementary-school project completed several decades earlier is the perfect allusion for the current campaign process. It's too bad there wasn't more of it though.
This release comes with an extended cut, which runs 11 minutes longer than the theatrical edit. There's not a grand deal of difference between the two versions, with the key inserts including an interview with Cam and his wife with Piers Morgan involving product placements and a classic Ferrell freak-out following a snake-handlers ritual. Interestingly, this extended cut isn't just about material added in, as a run-in between Can and a police officer has been replaced with a slightly different, and somewhat less-believable version, among other much smaller edits. The slimmer cut flows better, and these new scenes don't add much to the overall film.
The film arrives in a two-disc set, one Blu-Ray and one DVD, which are packed in a clear dual-hubbed Blu-Ray keepcase. The Blu-Ray features the very bland, static standard WB Blu-Ray menu, with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust the set-up and check out the extras. An English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is available on both cuts of the film, while the Theatrical version also includes French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, with subtitles in English SDH, Spanish and French.
The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer on this film is the kind of uniformly excellent presentation we should expect from a recent film making its debut on Blu-Ray. The level of fine detail is high across the board, making sure you really notice the funniest nipple of 2012 (which surprisingly is not Ferrell's) not to mention all the other fun visual gags throughout, like the results of a powerful baby punch. Color is strong, but appropriate throughout, while skintones are spot-on and black levels are deep and solid. You won't notice any digital distractions in the image either, making for a fantastic experience.
The Campaign's not particularly bombastic as far as audio goes, but the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 gives the movie an appropriate presentation, with the film's dialogue up front and center for the most part, along with some quality atmospheric sound during crowd scenes. You're not going to find much in the way of a dynamic mix, with the surround speakers limited mainly to enhancing the music. It's basically just what the film required.
If any studio is going to let you down when it comes to extras, Warner Brothers is certainly building quite the reputation as the go-to crew for Blu-Ray mediocrity. You've got a pretty high-profile film here, and the extras total a paltry 23-plus minutes, starting off with the 4:23 Line-O-Rama. Here you get to experience alternate takes for several of the film's jokes, most of which are actually rather funny. But it's hard to believe that this is all there was of this type of material. If the cast had this kind of freedom in finding a laugh, you know there were more opportunities to ad lib.
More formal cuts from the film are found amongst the film's nine deleted/alternate scenes, which run 15:44. There are a few interesting cuts in here, including a different kind of shooting scene between Brady and Huggins, Marty coping with some very friendly constituents, the ramifications of Cam airing his sex tape and more about the Chinese workers brought to North Carolina. Some of this, like the constituents, probably could have been left in without problem, but some were just too much to fit in.
The gag reel (3:31), like the movie, feels like it should be funnier, if only for the presence of Ferrell and Galifianakis. It gets off to a good start, but peters out far too early.
Also included in the set is a code for an UltraViolet stream and download of the film.
The Bottom Line
The Campaign is an enjoyable bit of raunchy fluff masquerading as political satire, when it could have thrown in a bit more darkness to go with some of the aggressive comedy to become something great, rather than a film that's just sometimes very funny, but normally hews to the middle. The quality of the presentation is high though, even if the extras fall far short of what you'd want and expect from a movie with a cast like this. Fans of the two stars will certainly want to give it a look, but owning this set is beyond most voters' needs and wants.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.