What is it going to take for Hollywood to deliver an original comedy?
The summer of 2012 saw three mainstream comedies, each cut from the same “been there, done that” cloth. First, we had another one of Sacha Baron Cohen’s characterized portrayals in “The Dictator.” Following that was the somewhat original “Ted,” but it didn’t help that the title character shares the same voice actor with a very famous cartoon father. Lastly, just in time for its real-world counterpart to kick into top gear, Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis have brought “The Campaign” to theaters.
“The Campaign” had a pretty logical storyline. Democratic congressman Cam Brady, played by Ferrell, is heading to his fifth consecutive term as a small North Carolina district representative. Then Marty Huggins, played by Galifianakis, gets thrown into the race by the Motch Brothers, John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd, who are leaders of an international conglomerate determined to double profit margins by “insourcing” the building of a Chinese sweatshop in Hammond, N.C. — a typical big-business-runs-politics sort of thing.
From then on, political debauchery ensues. No part of the political campaign tabloid stories go untold, including the numerous penis-text jokes and extra-martial affairs.
Ferrell’s performances usually earn a chuckle or two just because they’re from Will Ferrell, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to muster the guffaws for one of the better comedic actors of our generation. My excitement for “Anchorman 2” can’t be eliminated, but I am a bit nervous that the Ron Burgundy shtick will grow old like most of his other routines, including this one.
Galifianakis played the role of the aloof politician well, but how many times can you watch a Galifianakis character get abused and not start to feel sorry for him? Why does he always have to be the guy everyone picks on? Can’t we have more movies of him being the chubby drunk pal everyone can associate with a la “Out Cold”? Sure he was ridiculed in that movie, but it always felt endearing. Here it just felt mean.
The high point was found with Brady’s campaign manager, Mitch, played by Jason Sudeikis. While it’s difficult to imagine Sudeikis as the protagonist in a film, there are few better in the comedy business to play a supporting role. The short, dry delivery is a nice contrast to Ferrell’s often drawn out rants.
It’s no surprise that Jay Roach directed this movie. While most can’t deny the hilarity and originality of the Austin Powers series, the films hardly varied. The same goes for his first two installments of the “Meet the Parents” series. Roach has a solid track record of funny movies, but he tends to lean heavily on sticking to a certain comedic script. Find a niche, stick to it, collect the paycheck.
It was a tough summer for comedies, to say the least. When an action movie like “The Avengers” gets more laughs out of me than a flick starring Galifianakis and Ferrell, the humor in the movie business may need a breath of fresh air.
But as long as movies like “Ted” end up as one of the top-10 grossing movies of the summer and people continue to pay to watch Ferrell, Galifianakis and Cohen do the same things under different titles, then the joke is on us.