IN "THE Campaign," some of Hollywood's top comic talents take on our laughable political system and come up with something that's curiously short on laughs.
My guess is that the industry's leading satirists got about halfway in, and realized they'd taken on a system already matchless for its ability to self-satirize.
How, for instance, do you one-up bird-hunting Vice President Dick Cheney shooting one of his own backers in the face?
"The Campaign" gives it a shot, so to speak, and the results (featured in the commercials) feel like an unsatisfactory riff on the real thing.
From there, the "The Campaign" apparently felt it had nowhere to go but raunchy. So we get Will Ferrell as an impossibly horny U.S. senator made so vulnerable by a sex scandal that his moneybags backers decide to buy an insurance policy — also backing a backwater weirdo (Zach Galifianakis) who'll take Ferrell's seat should he lose.
It's Frank Capra turned inside out, and leavened (but not improved) with R-rated material — Galifianakis' oddball outsider becomes an overnight sensation, leading to bare-knuckle politics that expresses itself in rolling scandals about sex tapes, drunken driving, etc.
Given the level of talent involved (producer Adam McKay of "Anchorman" and "Step Brothers," director Jay Roach of "Austin Powers" and "Meet the Parents"), I think we wanted something more substantial, something that would compensate us for sitting through a national election as stupefying as the Phillies' season.
But you get that sinking feeling you had watching "The Watch" — that somebody reached for R-rated stuff because it was easy, or folks were short on time.
Worse, we see reheated versions of previous material — the foulmouthed-kids-at-the-dinner-table scene from "Talledega Nights," which also gave us the character of the ambitious, king-making wife who abandons ship as her husband loses his edge. Ferrell's macho, sexist bombast also feels like something left over from "Anchorman," or maybe something he's workshopping for the upcoming "Anchorman 2."
Galifianakis does create something new and very specific here — but the movie doesn't seem to know what to do with it, and the opportunity for something timely and resonant feels squandered.
Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "Keep It Reel," at philly.com/keepitreel.
Review | ss1/2
Directed by Jay Roach. With Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd. Distributed by Warner Bros.
Running time: 85 minutes
Parent's guide: R (sex, language, politics)
Playing at: area theaters