Zach Galifianakis

The Campaign (2012)

the campaign film

When The Campaign was released in 2012, there seemed to be some restoration of order in American politics. Sure, Rick Santorum was convinced that he might actually win the Republican nomination, but when the campaign season ended, a predictable duo – Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan – stood atop the GOP dais, suit jackets off and sleeves rolled up, their million dollar smiles giving light to the darkness. It was a far cry from the Sarah Palin circus that had thrown the political world into tumult four years earlier.

Well, here we are again, caught in that ever-widening intersection of a Venn diagram that is politics and entertainment, and like some fraying red, white, and blue bunting, we can pull out The Campaign in the hopes of adding some Hollywood flair to it all. The principals involved in this production are not novices to the political entertainment sphere. Director Jay Roach helmed HBO’s Recount and Game Change, writer Chris Henchy penned episodes of the 1990s hit Spin City, and stars Will Ferrell famously played a president on SNL while Zach Galifianakis interviewed one in his web comedy, Between Two Ferns. To borrow this season’s buzzword, these guys are kind of establishment, and that hasn’t been a good thing.

The film throws a spotlight on much of what is wrong with today’s political atmosphere. Congressional incumbent Cam Brady (Ferrell), a Democrat from North Carolina, is a shoo-in for the upcoming election despite his sexual indiscretions. The dastardly Koch Motch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Ackroyd), hoping to secure a deal with a Chinese company, exploit this and convince feeble family man Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) to run on the Republican ticket. Marty is no match for his bellicose opponent though, so the Motch brothers hire a slippery campaign manager (Dylan McDermott) to even things out. In no time, mud, and fists, are flying.

In a normal election year, say 2012, The Campaign would be an amusing companion piece, a gentle ribbing of our dysfunctional system. But it’s 2016, and we’ve entered a political twilight zone, one that necessitates art that dismantles lies, not just mocks them. This film is funny in an extended sketch comedy kind of way, with leads playing to extreme type and cartoonish villains who chomp cigars and get their comeuppance. It pokes fun at Sarah Barracuda and Dick Cheney’s shooting mishap and is at least equal opportunity in its send-ups, demonizing the money, the politicians, the operatives, the media, the electorate – basically everyone in this great democratic process. But it only ever feels familiar, never uncomfortable. There’s not much in here that hasn’t already been revealed by late night comedy or, on occasion, actual reporters.

The time is ripe for a film that doesn’t just cut close but cuts open the cancers of Citizens United and faux patriotism. The Motch brothers sneer and proclaim that in America “when you’ve got the money, nothing is unpredictable,” a truism but not a particularly shocking one. It seems just pointless for Cam to spout “America, Jesus, Freedom” and then gamely admit that he doesn’t know what it means but knows that people love him for saying it. We’ve moved past this point in our national discourse, and this film along with it.

Released: 2012
Prod: Jay Roach, Adam McKay, Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis
Dir: Jay Roach
Writer: Chris Henchy, Shawn Harwell
Cast: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Katherine LaNasa, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Ackroyd, Brian Cox, Sarah Baker, Karen Maruyama
Time: 85 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

Due Date

due date

Great road trip movies transform the landscape into its own character, and Due Date, which sees its two protagonists drive from Atlanta to Los Angeles, sneaks in some stunning shots of America the Beautiful. But that’s about all it has going for it. Director Todd Phillips’s follow up to The Hangover, it aims for every benchmark set by his 2009 hit – brotherhood, inanity, untamed humor – and falls short.

Part of the problem with movies that take place mostly in a car is that they force a sense of claustrophobia. If you don’t like the characters you’re riding with, it can feel like being crammed in the back seat with miles to go and no rest area in sight. And Peter Highman (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifainakis) are not the best travel partners. Of the two, I’d rather be trapped with Peter, an uptight architect who probably squeezes his toothpaste from the bottom up and rolls his toilet paper under. You might not get great conversation out of him, but you’d arrive at your destination safely and on time, two things Ethan, an aspiring actor with questionable grooming habits, could never deliver.

After he gets both of them kicked off a flight and onto the No Fly List, he must get them across country in time for the birth of Peter’s first child. Though Peter has no money, luggage, or ID, he should be able to think of a way to get home that doesn’t involve bumming a ride off Ethan, but there’s a movie to be made, dammit.

And so he entrusts the task to a relentlessly awkward man-child with limited self-awareness, and who thinks Shakespeare’s a pirate. Ethan communicates best with his “glaucoma medication” supplier, carries his father’s ashes in a coffee can (that’s just is never, ever a good idea), and hopes to make it big in Hollywood via guest appearances on Two and a Half Men. Yet when Galifainakis puts the Between Two Ferns weirdness on pause, there is something wonderfully good-natured about his character. Ethan’s lack of cynicism begs to be laughed at in this world, and we do, until we realize he doesn’t care all that much. He’s still smiling, clutching his tiny bulldog and that damn coffee can.

These moments are fleeting though, and it’s hard to find a sustained and satisfying sequence that delivers the comedy gold. There are a few cameos that are amusing – Juliette Lewis as a weed dealer, Jamie Foxx as Peter’s friend who may or may not be sleeping with his wife (Michelle Monaghan), but most of the film is painfully unsatisfying because, while we sit around waiting for things to turn funny, we are still sharing time with a high-strung jerk and a guy who masturbates in tandem with his dog.

Released: 2010
Prod: Todd Phillips, Daniel Goldberg, Susan Downey
Dir: Todd Phillips
Writer: Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel
Cast: Robert Downey, Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis, Matt Walsh, RZA, Danny McBride
Time: 95 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015