Will Ferrell's funniest movie in years, this is a silly comedy with a terrible sentimental streak, but the political satire running through it is dead on. In fact, the film's opening act is razor-sharp as it lampoons election campaigning with knowing jabs at corporate sponsorship, incumbent laziness and the difficulty of being an honest candidate. So it's disappointing when the film becomes soppy and stupid.
Ferrell creates a memorable comical character in Cam Brady, a five-term North Carolina congressman up for re-election. He's sure he will coast his way back into office, and is only mildly worried when naive local goofball Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) runs against him. Marty certainly isn't ready for the slick attacks orchestrated by Cam's campaign manager (Sudeikis). But two wealthy brothers (the underused Lithgow and Aykroyd) are bankrolling Marty's campaign in the hopes of turning the district into a Chinese sweatshop, so they hire a ruthless press officer (McDermott) to whip Marty into shape. And the game is on.
Even though the characters are cartoonish, what they do is eerily authentic. Cam is a smooth operator with strong hair and a womanising streak. He also believes he can do whatever he wants as long as he mentions "America, Jesus and freedom" in every speech. By contrast, Marty is camp and silly, with a plump wife (Baker) and kids, plus a pair of pet pugs that Cam instantly labels as "Communist Chinese dogs!" Their clashes are a riot of parody and slapstick, some of which is sharply pointed (neither says anything substantial) and some is just ridiculous (including a hilarious cameo from Uggy, the dog from The Artist).
While the goofy antics are shocking enough to make us laugh, it's the more sophisticated comedy about politics that's actually funny. It's a cleverly accurate portrayal of the farce that has replaced real government, and even more telling is the way it portrays the electorate as unthinking sheep who just go along with their candidate, no matter what he or she says. So it's a bit annoying that the film cops out in the end, ducking the issues for simplistic touchy-feely moralising.
Run time: 85 mins
In Theaters: Friday 10th August 2012
Box Office USA: $86.9M
Box Office Worldwide: $103.4M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Gary Sanchez Productions, Warner Bros. Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 64%
Fresh: 125 Rotten: 69
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: Jay Roach
Screenwriter: Chris Henchy, Shawn Harwell
Starring: Dylan McDermott as Tim Wattley, Will Ferrell as Cam Brady, Zach Galifianakis as Marty Huggins, Jason Sudeikis as Mitch, Sarah Baker as Mitzi Huggins, Millard Darden as Moderator Carl Terry, Kya Haywood as Dylan/Clay Huggins, John Lithgow as Glen Motch, Dan Aykroyd as Wade Motch, Brian Cox as Raymond, Amelia Jackson-Gray as Becky, Josh Lawson as Tripp, Thomas Middleditch as Travis, Scott A. Martin as Wes Talager, Karen Maruyama as Mrs. Yao, Katherine LaNasa as Rose Brady, Kate Miner as Shana