Just in time for the 2012 Presidential election, director Jay Roach brings us two of the biggest names in comedy on screen for the first time together. Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis join forces to poke fun at the political system while the two are constantly taking shots at each other. With a seemingly flawless premise and an even more promising dynamic, the film would seemingly be a slam-dunk, but does it follow through?
Congress incumbent Cam Brady, played by Ferrell, is in a lot of hot water and is losing voter support due to a series of scandals. Without that support, he will not be able to rally the people behind the plan of his financial backers, the manipulative lobbyists and string-pulling Motch brothers, played by John Lithgow and Dan Akroyd. Desperate to regain those numbers, the brothers turn to a candidate they feel that the can control, Marty Huggins, played by Galifianakis. What follows is taking an average – using the term very loosely – citizen and thrusting him into the darkest part of the political environment. The story, although somewhat lacking in genuine originality, makes up for it with fresh comedy delivered from unexpected places and somewhat unorthodox and irreverent places.
As with most comedies, the characters are the true driving force behind this movie, for better and for worse. Ferrell delivers the quintessential performance that has become the very thing that he is known for; which is possibly the most divisive part of the film. And it’s a separation only exacerbated by Galifianakis’ performance as the lovably naïve, somewhat dim-witted yet truly benevolent Huggins. The characters that truly deliver upstanding performances are Lithgow and Akroyd. Despite the fact that their presence is minimal, they completely steal every scene while never going beyond the confines of their characters nor eating the scenery.
But even these comedy legends are not enough to excuse the rest of the erratic pacing of the film. Although there are moments that will elicit guffaws, more often than not the jokes fall flat as the characters attempt to take full advantage of its R rating. There is a time-tested theory that the use of adult language can add a few laughs in an adult film, however only when used properly.
The film does walk a very fine line. On the one hand, if they make it too much about the comedy and the subplots, then moviegoers will be disappointed as it would feel as though the movie had no real message or point. However, it is made too much about the political satire it would have distanced the audience seeking an entertaining story featuring some great comedians. It does a great job in this regard of satisfying both audiences. It will provide entertainment to those seeking a comedy with Ferrell and Galifianakis while still giving some subtle if not poignant commentary about the political system. There are moments when their ridiculous antics would seem to be very costly to them both, only to have them each receive bumps in the polls; whether it is Ferrell sleeping with Galifianakis’ wife and making a political commercial out of it or Galifianakis shooting Ferrell in the knee. This could easily be shown as a statement against the natural indecisiveness of the American voter, or to just be silly, and it works in either case.
More impressively, it does not truly make a stance for either Democrats or Republicans. In a rather refreshing move from Roach, he has made the character we feel should be the antagonist, Ferrell, a Democrat. Although you have to be watching very closely to even notice that as it is only mentioned briefly and never referenced again. To take such an open, non-partisan stance in such a political climate to just make an entertaining film was much appreciated.
There are moments in this movie that will, undoubtedly, provide entertainment for anyone who will see this movie. Unfortunately, at times the comedy will not hit home with anyone, and jokes that should have a very finite runtime are stretched too far. Although objectively there isn’t much that can be said as truly condemning about this film, not much can be said in its favor, either.
It is a movie that will still count as a success for all involved, but just because it isn’t bad doesn’t mean it’s good; watch at your own risk.