It's not funny because it's true
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 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.
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.
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