Identity Thief (2013)

Identity Thief banner

Identity theft is no small matter nowadays. Everyone seems to have their cards cloned. I know that I did a year ago! You’d think it’d be hard to pass yourself off as The Phage, as I’m essentially some weird shape with some legs… but I guess there are certain pockets of breeding in the UK that would yield an orange offspring with spikey legs. In a nutshell, identity theft is something that everyone is starkly aware of nowadays and as such is ripe for the glorious Hollywood treatment right? So how does Identity Thief cope? Does it actually have an identity of its own, or is it just some pale imitation of a superior product?

Sometimes you can’t but show favouritism towards something. You know you shouldn’t, but you do. Maybe you’ve got a child that you prefer more than his/her brother/sister? You clearly don’t tell them, but deep down… you do. The same goes for films when they star someone you’re quite partial to. See, I’m a massive fan of Jason Bateman. I love his style of comedy thanks in no small part to the fantastic Arrested Development. Sure, he’s always essentially playing the same role, but if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it. And don’t fix it he does. Wow, that’s confusing to type. I’m sure I’ve broken 100 grammatical rules there. So when I saw that he was the lead in Identity Thief I was immediately interested in the film… but…

Identity Thief (2013)

OK, before I delve into the review, let’s give everyone a quick synopsis. Not that it’s needed. If you look at the poster and the title of the film, it should all be pretty apparent right? Jason Bateman plays Sandy Patterson – a good guy. He pays his bills, works in banking and tries to do right by his family. However, all this goes to hell in a handbasket when he has his identity stolen by some deranged woman in Florida (Melissa McCarthy). She racks up a ton of bills and arrest warrants; thus throwing Sandy’s life into turmoil. So what does he do? Well, he heads out to confront his female imposter in order to get his life back. With hilarious consequences.

The trouble with this film is it’s essentially way too long and relies on very weak jokes to keep it plodding along. As I’ve already confessed, I enjoy seeing Bateman on-screen, but not even this was enough to keep me engrossed in the movie. It just kept on going… and going… and going. At some points it felt like I was watching Due Date again, but minus the obvious tension of Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis’ relationship. The film also resorts to a saccharine tale of redemption and how one person can reform their character. OK, I should have been acutely aware this is what would happen, as it’d be hard for the film to take many other paths. And now that I think of it, I can’t actually see another way that the film would progress, but it still irked me. It seemed jarring.

The premise of identity theft should be ripe for some great send-ups, but the plot seems to have had its own identity stolen and replaced with that of a mindless pseudo-action/chase movie, replete with some extremely bizarre sex scenes and car chases. This… I wasn’t expecting.

Who are these people? Don't worry... they're superfluous.

Who are these people? Don’t worry… they’re superfluous.

Having said ALL of this, I still thought Jason Bateman was great. I love his style of acting and this is another fine example of him at his best. It’s just a shame that the script and plotting are so weak. Similarly, Melissa McCarthy is great in her role too; it’s just a shame her character is so vapid for the majority of the film and then unquestionably deep for the final third. Although she’s clearly a great comedic actress, I just grew tired of the gags they had her perform. As I’ve said previously – they just go on… and on… and on. She needed a more well-rounded character or at least some more impressive set pieces to allow her to flex her chops.

Ultimately, Identity Thief falls down in two key areas: laughs and plotting. It lacks both. What you’re left with is a film that’s confused about what it wants to be: a jack of all trades, master of none. It tries its hand at action, raunch and slapstick, but falls down in most of those areas. Hell, even if it worked in the slapstick department, I still wouldn’t be impressed, as that’s not really our favoured style over here at Film Phage.

It’s quite ironic that Identity Thief lacks identity. Maybe it was an extremely cunning and meta joke by the film makers here. Yes, surely that’s what they were thinking when they put together the movie. Surely? Oh… it wasn’t? This is meant to be an enjoyable comedy? Oh… alright then. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen worse movies in recent months, but this is clearly just a movie you’d watch “if it was on TV”. Look out though – it’ll bill itself as a comedy… it’s all lies. Spurious lies.

Phage Factor:

2 Stars

Movie 43 (2013)

Movie 43 (2013)

Forgive me Phagelings for I have sinned. I come here humbly seeking your forgiveness for breaking my own commandments. I read other people’s opinions before coming to form my own. I know, it’s a sin tantamount to spitting the wine back after Communion. Heinous behaviour. What’s more, all of the reviews were overwhelmingly negative. And by negative, I mean brandishing the film an abomination not suited for the realm of men. And after seeing Movie 43, I am in need of forgiveness… as is everyone else involved in bringing this bloated mess of a film to our screens.

Just look at this list for a second... Look at it.

Just look at this list for a second… Look at it.

Well, I think that sets the tone well for the rest of this review right? You’re in no way confused about where I’m taking this. Movie 43 is quite simply one of the worst films committed to celluloid. But I ignored the prophecising from other reviewers and Rotten Tomatoes. How could a film that featured such an overwhelmingly fantastic cast be doomed to fail? It was like the Lehman Brothers of the film world. You’re factoring in A-listers such as Richard Gere, Kate Winslet, Gerard Butler, Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts… and the list goes on. And on. And on. So how can a comedy film like this turn out to be a dud? By having absolutely no laughs and nothing to get excited about.

This is my pose for the whole of the film. Yes Richard, you should be hiding away.

This is my pose for the whole of the film. Yes Richard, you should be hiding away.

Movie 43‘s very loose plot toys around with a group of kids looking for a fabricated film called Movie 43 to prank a younger brother. But as they delve into the depths of the internet they discover some very weird and odd movies that are already out there. These weird movies feature a date between Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman where Jackman has a scrotum grafted to his neck, but no-one can see it but here, and a skit about Johnny Knoxville capturing a leprechaun (Gerard Butler) for Sean William Scott to make up for sleeping with his girlfriend. I know right? Pure comedy gold. Not really.

The problem with the film is two-fold: 1) it’s not funny, and 2) it’s pure nonsense. Let’s deal with point 1 first shall we? As regular readers will know, The Phage is British. Over here in the UK we have a very dark sense of humour that most Americans can’t comprehend. Our humour is awkward, situational and sometimes grossly offensive. All of this is fine in my books – it just works and makes me laugh. However, Movie 43 takes the last part of that tripos and ratchets it up to 12. It’s so puerile and offensive that even I sat there thinking “wow… that’s crossed the line”. My line is a dot in the distance, but it still raced over there, spat on it, and jumped over. Probably making some weak fart joke as it went. The jokes were hokey and were probably best suited to a 5 second gag on some other terrible TV sketch show. The phrase that came to mind for a lot of these “pieces” was flogging a dead horse. It make its weak attempt at a joke and then drove it into the ground so much that it was nothing but dust. Horribly unfunny dust.

I felt like crying too Emma. It's OK, don't fret...

I felt like crying too Emma. It’s OK, don’t fret…

And let’s jump to number 2. I can also tolerate a nonsensical plot. I’m not averse to it. Sometimes comedies just have a ludicrously dumb plot: Dude! Where’s My Car? is self-explanatory, Freddy Got Fingered is just dumb and Dumb and Dumber is about taking a suitcase to a girl in Aspen. They don’t have to be rocket science. But the overarching “plot” was as bad as the faux-films they were watching. It just had no redemptive qualities whatsoever. OK, I tell a lie – the one time I laughed was during the credits’ outtakes. So credit to you Johnny Knoxville and Sean William Scott for breaking my icy veneer.

Then, to add insult to injury… the film just keeps going. You reach the outtakes and reflect on how you’ve just squandered 90 minutes of your life in a cinema when you could have been staring at a curbstone in the car park instead, but then it just… keeps… going. Another sketch is thrust into your retinas about some bizarre animated cat and how much it hates Elizabeth Banks. Why? What have I done to deserve this?

Yeah, I think you can keep that Oscar speech in your pocket for the foreseeable future.

Yeah, I think you can keep that Oscar speech in your pocket for the foreseeable future.

And let’s get one thing straight here: I’m not an uptight Brit. If I am, then so too is everyone else in the audience that was duped into spending their cash watching this train wreck of a film. If you think back to last year, you’ll remember our worst film of the year: Keith Lemon The Film – we even gave it our 2012 Phagee Award for being so awful. Well, Movie 43 is its American big brother. Sure, its cameos are from international film stars and it looks a hell of a lot slicker, but underneath the veneer its the same horrible, bent-out-of-shape mess of a movie…

As you can probably tell, Movie 43 isn’t our hottest pick of the year. In fact, I’d already mark it up for being the worst movie of 2013 and we’re only in February. The film will solely appeal to 12 year old boys who think jokes about periods, crap and scrotums are literally the funniest thing they’ve ever seen. No doubt it’ll become like Playboy or Penthouse and will be passed around under desks on a burnt DVD so everyone can be in on the joke. But at least Playboy or Penthouse would teach them sometime about life.

But what about the rest of us with a mental age of at least 14? Well, my simple advice would be to wait until the film’s released on DVD. Find it. Don’t buy it. And possibly slash the case so it gets returned to the warehouse to prevent someone from seeing it. Imagine it’s the tape from The Ring. You wouldn’t want anyone to suffer would you? Because then you too would be seeking forgiveness. Not for breaking commandments or for starring in one of the worst films of the decade, but for dooming someone to 90 minutes of sonic and visual abuse. In fact, give them the tape from The Ring instead. You’ll have less to feel guilty about.

Phage Factor:

0.5 Stars

Parental Guidance (2012)

Parental Guidance (2012)

I can’t quite pinpoint the point in my life where I started to feel alienated from those that are younger than me. The turning point where I thought “I was never like that at your age” or “I swear kids weren’t getting pregnant at that age in my day”. Don’t misinterpret that for me being an old, miserable Phage; I’m actually relatively young – spawned in the mid-80’s. But I still wonder what the hell the kids are drinking nowadays to make them behave so oddly. Or maybe I’m just jaded I didn’t behave so recklessly back in my youth. It’s a peculiar thing that happens to everyone when they hit their mid-twenties – they start to relate more to those older than them, than those in their teenage years. This is despite the fact that you’ve obviously been a teenager by this point, but you’ve never been a 30 year old. Odd isn’t it? Well, these inter-generational relationships are the subject of Parental Guidance – a film spanning three generations. But is it lovable like someone else your age, or as irritating as a 18 year old know-it-all that “really discovered who they were” on a beach in Thailand?

Parental Guidance (2012)

Parental Guidance is a good old-fashioned family comedy starring Billy Crystal and Bette Midler as Artie and Diane Decker – two grandparents that are somewhat ostracised by their child owing to their quirkiness. But they’re called upon by their daughter, Alice (Marisa Tomei) to look after their three grandchildren whilst she goes for a few days away with her husband. The problem? Artie and Diane are old school parents, whilst Alice and her husband are more new age (e.g. never say “no”, say “wouldn’t you rather” – a more gently, gently approach). Just how will the family cope?! Yes, yes, it’s all very formulaic and lightweight, but that’s pretty much the point. Obvious comparisons would be to Cheaper by the Dozen and films of its ilk, but they’d be misplaced, because this film isn’t a train wreck.

Parental Guidance (2012)

This is essentially a platform for Billy Crystal to be Billy Crystal. For some, that’ll sound like torment, but to others it’ll sound like heaven. Me? Well, I’ve never really been exposed to many of his movies / appearances on TV – it seems you guys in the US get a lot more of him than we do. For this reason, I thought Crystal was genuinely funny. Sure, some of the jokes were very wide of the mark, but the ones that landed on target made me chuckle. Not guffaw and fall about the aisles, but chuckle nevertheless. Similarly, Bette Midler has been given some great lines too – one exchange between her and a very demanding Russian violin teacher was particularly memorable.

What of the rest of the cast? Well, they’re all serviceable, but as I say – this is a Crystal and Midler vehicle and not much else. They’re just there. I’m well aware that Marisa Tomei can really pull off great roles (The Wrestler for instance), but she was somewhat underutilised here – the part could have been played by any actress really. Similarly, the three children are nothing too remarkable, but their performances never seemed hackneyed or weak. They’re just not Pierce Gagnon. Yes, I can pretty much manage to shoehorn Tom Hardy or Pierce Gagnon into the vast majority of my reviews.

Parental Guidance (2012)

In terms of plot development, you know you’re not going to get some astronomically complex plot. This is a “U” certificate after all – a true family film. Everything is relatively linear and you can foresee the ending before the film even begins, but I don’t think that’s the point. The emphasis is on the dichotomy of parenting styles – old school grandparents vs. new age parents. And I enjoyed that. You see, I’m much more an advocate of the straight-talking method used by Crystal and I could relate to his qualms with the gently, gently approach used by his daughter.

Other reviewers have used a lot of “sch-” prefixed words to describe the film, which I’m not entirely in agreement with. Sure, it’s sweet and sometimes very sentimental, but it’s done well. It carries a message that we can all relate to: we get older and things change. In my screening there were a variety of ages – the parents and grandparents were laughing, but so too were the children. Although the youngsters were more amused by a supersoaker to the groin than Crystal‘s off-the-cuff remarks about life. I can’t say I’ll be recommending the movie to all and sundry, but if you’re in need of a holiday film to entertain the family then you could probably do far worse than Parental Guidance.

Whilst Parental Guidance isn’t a family classic, it is an enjoyable film. It doesn’t outstay its welcome and delivers what you’d expect: an all-around enjoyable family film. If you’ve not been saturated by Crystal in the past then you’ll find much to like here. It’s unlikely to become a film you’ll love and cherish, but nor is it as tacky and obvious as Cheaper by the Dozen and other films that deal with grandparents looking after children. Crystal himself summed up Parental Guidance as a “Home Alone for grandparents”. And you know what? I think he’s about right.

Maybe my enjoyment of this movie is testament to my cynicism about Generation whatever-letter-we’re-on-now. Maybe I’m prematurely long in the tooth. And maybe I’m tainted by my own lack of kids. But for whatever reason, I enjoyed Parental Guidance a good deal. Don’t be led by the opinions of others who’d probably dissuade you from seeing this if you’re on the fence about it. After all, would you listen to the “life advice” of the aforementioned 18 year old who’s just returned from that one week sojourn in Thailand where they got in touch with their inner goddess? When in fact they were just dancing on a beach whilst drinking screwdrivers out of a plastic bag? Yes? No? Well, I guess it all depends on your age… Much like your enjoyment of this film.

Phage Factor:

3 Star

Sightseers (2012)

Sightseers (2012)

Cinema-goers are an eclectic bunch. The love for film transcends every demographic – old, young, nerd or jock. Everyone’s welcome at the cinema. I’m not sure that should always be the case, as some patrons are slightly more… unusual than others. We’ve all had the misfortune to sit near one. Or maybe you actually are one of those fruitcups that makes everyone else sitting around you either a) incredibly annoyed with you, or b) scared of you. Good for you. Probably. You know the people I’m talking about though; some will guffaw with laughter over the mildest of amusements (replete with thigh slapping), whilst others will actively talk to the screen out loud because I’m sure the characters in the film can hear you and appreciate your feedback. Well, my viewing of Sightseers was definitely one of those viewings and the film lends itself to the screwballs.

Sightseers is a British “comedy” about a roadtrip around the British Isles by Chris (Steve Oram) and his newly-minted and incredibly timid girlfriend Tina (Alice Lowe). The couple travel to the most mundane of British amusements (a pencil factory, a tram museum etc.) whilst towing their caravan behind them. However, there’s a twist. Chris is a little bit psychotic… he’s a bit of a serial killer when his patience is tested. Hilarity ensues. Well, it should… but it doesn’t. Not one iota.

Sightseers (2012)

This is an incredibly dark film. So dark that nary a ray of light can penetrate it. I cannot label this a comedy unless you get your jollies from either a) incredibly banal jokes, or b) extreme violence. If this is you… I’d contact someone about that. You’ll know you’re one of these folks if you find yourself talking to a screen at the cinema. If you’re like me however, you’ll leave the cinema feeling incredibly beaten down and slightly unhappy. This isn’t a comedy, so don’t believe the plaudits and opinions some of our bigger and more noticed peers may be throwing at this film.

Whilst I found the initial half of the film incredibly hard going, owing to its humour missing me entirely and the plot blundering along at an incredibly slow pace, I did find my interest improving over the course of the film. The whole “serial killer” vibe is very much a one-trick pony, but I was intrigued to see how the plot would progress and conclude. The two lead actors, Oram and Lowe are fantastic in their respective roles, so nothing can be taken from them. Their characters are incredibly vivid and well-realised, it’s just a pity that I didn’t find myself warming to either of them over the 88 minute runtime.

Sightseers (2012)

I just struggle to get over the humour of the film. A while ago in my Cockneys vs. Zombies review I mentioned a similar phenomenon wherein there was much knee-slapping from certain audience members who couldn’t get enough of the Brit-themed zombie action. I struggled to see how this was funny in the slightest, despite labelling myself a massive advocate of British comedy. I think it ultimately comes down to a divide in the population. Whilst some members of the public love shows like Peep Show and The Inbetweeners, others will find that humour too awkward and instead opt for Two Pints of Lager and Miranda. I fall into the former camp and cannot tolerate the latter. For my non-UK readers, let me put it a different way. The former two shows are a lot like The Office (US and UK) – quite awkward situational comedy, whilst the latter are the classic laughter-track sitcoms that swamp the TV landscape where laughter comes as a result of someone falling over or saying “bum”. As non-cerebral as you can get.

With that being said, I feel that Sightseers appeals to those in the latter camp. For better, or worse, I just couldn’t identify with this film on any level beyond watching it to review. As I say, it’s not a bad film, and will definitely have its audience out there in the world, but it really wasn’t for me. Releasing it at Christmas was also a peculiar choice too. This is definitely an October film – a dark, oppressive season for a dark, disturbing film.

2012 has been somewhat of a stale year for British comedy at the box office, at least by The Phage‘s reckoning. The Wedding Video, Keith Lemon: The Film and Cockneys vs. Zombies all failed to bring me joy and Sightseers has the same fate. That being said, Sightseers is a very different type of film that may have just been mis-labelled as a comedy. It’s more of a thriller / horror with dark humour thrown in for the ride. Whilst the acting is incredibly convincing, the film just didn’t entertain me. And whilst I’m not averse to a downbeat ending (in fact, I quite enjoy them), the whole film was so downbeat that the ending was just a nail in the coffin for me.

But then again, if you were the person in my screening that proclaimed “oh dear” at the top of your voice when someone died, or you asked questions of / warned the characters on-screen, then you probably thought this was a great film. It seems the UK has more than its fair share of the mentally unstable that frequent the cinema at mid-week. I can’t help but feel that Chris and Tina from Sightseers would be two of those characters. Let’s just hope that person X from my screening doesn’t own a caravan and harbor a homicidal rage. We can but hope.

Phage Factor:

2 Stars

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Silver Linings Playbook (2013)

“You don’t go full retard.” These were Robert Downey Jr.‘s words in 2008’s Tropic Thunder. In the film he was referring to Ben Stiller‘s character Simple Jack, who was severely mentally handicapped to a charicature-style level. But the blacked up Downey Jr. raised a good point… it’s hard for Hollywood to tackle mental illness in an effective way, especially when you try to throw comedy into the mix. You don’t want the audience laughing at an illness, nor do you want them feeling ashamed of themselves for doing it either… but you do want them to laugh. So, enter Silver Linings Playbook – the latest film to tackle the tricky problem. But does it succeed?

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)Silver Linings Playbook focuses on the post-psychiatric ward recovery of Pat (Bradley Cooper), as he goes about trying to improve himself to rekindle his marriage with his adulterous wife. But as he tries to get his life back on track, he runs (literally) into Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) – a girl who also has some of her own issues stemming from a difficult few years, who tries to help him in his pursuit. OK, so far so good… in fact, if you strip away the mental illness issue, you could probably say it sounds quite formulaic and generic. And it probably is to a certain extent. But that would be a disservice to what is a truly fantastic movie.

I’m a big fan of Bradley Cooper. A big fan. However, one criticism that could be levied at him in recent years is the type of role he’s cast in – the “cool” guy. See The Hangover, Limitless and The A-Team for example. But this is different and really allows him to flex his acting chops in an entirely new direction, which he runs with. Pat is a disturbed character who combines rage, tranquility and confusion as he tries to deal with his life post-incident that got him committed to psychiatric care. All of this is delivered with aplomb alongside some well delivered comedic moments. I was really taken with Cooper every time he was on-screen. A really engrossing performance.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Cooper & Lawrence: Effortless chemistry.

And whilst we’re talking about performances, let’s talk about Jennifer Lawrence. Wow. Now, I thought she was a good actress and her roles to date have been OK, but they’ve never really startled me. But Silver Linings Playbook really brings her to the front of my mind now, as she really owns her roles as the emotionally fragile Tiffany. The best parts of the film are when her and Cooper are firing back and forth at one another – not only do they deliver some of the funniest moments of the film, but they also harbor some of the most beautiful scenes too. Despite the fact that Lawrence is only 22 and Cooper is 37, this is never an issue as Lawrence is really acting beyond her years here.

So what of the plot? Although some of it is formulaic, it has enough nail-biting moments to keep you guessing to some degree; much in the same way that The Fighter (David O. Russell‘s last directorial effort) was ultimately predictable but a fantastic film. As I mentioned earlier, some films about mental illness try to incorporate comedic elements and I’m happy to say that Silver Linings Playbook uses them really effectively. Speaking of comedy, it’s great to see Chris Tucker also returning to the screen after a hiatus that has gone on way too long. Why isn’t he in more movies? I really only know him from Jackie Brown and the Rush Hour trilogy, and there’s good reason for that: he’s not been cast in much else. Come on Hollywood – I love this guy. You can ditch your obsession with Chris Rock and bring back Tucker! Although he’s not on screen for large swathes of time, he’s magic when he is. With Tucker you know what you’re going to get – laughs. Man, I miss seeing this guy on my screen.

Tucker! Tucker! Tucker!

Tucker! Tucker! Tucker!

One criticism of the film that could be made is the somewhat mish-mashed nature of the film: emotional one moment, but funny the next. It’s bi-polar, a lot like Cooper‘s character. But I don’t see this as a problem. Its shifts in tone are nowhere near as jarring as those in Due Date – where Zach Galifianakis delivers his comedic lines one second to only break into a very somber speech about his dead father. That was jarring. That was a hard gear change. This film does not have the same problem. It seems to ebb and flow in a very natural manner that never stalls.

And one final parting note – I’ve read that some people are confused by the American Football terminology thrown around in the film. Why? It’s not hard to follow, so don’t worry about that if these opinions concern you. Sure, there’s a lot of focus on football, but that doesn’t mean it’s a film about it. Hell, Moneyball is all about baseball, which I know very little about aside from the fact you have t-shirt cannons and drink a lot of beer whilst some guy spent 3 days swinging a bat and missing. But the fact it was about baseball and I have little knowledge of it had no bearing on my enjoyment of that film. The same is true here.

Silver Linings Playbook is one long constant silver lining. The chemistry and performances from Cooper and Lawrence are truly fantastic, with both of them showing acting skills that they’ve not had on display in recent efforts. Some will argue Cooper‘s performance is better, some will argue for Lawrence, but in my eyes they’re both on a par and really make this movie what it is. Although the plot isn’t too cerebral, it throws up enough “will it / won’t it” moments to keep you engaged with the film.

It sounds like Cooper and Lawrence have heeded Downey Jr.‘s somewhat non-PC advice from Tropic Thunder. The film deals with mental illness: not in a mocking way, but in a very endearing manner. It acknowledges the rage and downsides, but also fuses them with some truly tender and lovely moments. And once again, let’s hear it for Chris Tucker – I want to start the campaign for his return. Either with him coming back to scream “Leeeee, Leeeee you crazy!!” in Rush Hour 4, or in some other comedic vehicle. The world needs more of him. We should always go full Tucker.

Phage Factor:

4 Star

The Campaign (2012)

Sometimes films land at a time that’s just so apt, so perfect that it’s a true stroke of luck. Take Contagion for example – the film about the deadly strain of influenza bat-derived virus. You may be thinking that it was commissioned because of the H1N1 outbreak, but you’d be wrong. It was just a happy co-incidence, as the film was actually sparked by SARS and the emerging H5N1 bird flu virus. You see? Right time – right place! Other films are less fortuitous and focus on hitting cinemas to coincide with something. And The Campaign is clearly one of those films.

Now, The Campaign hit the US some months ago, so to my Atlantic cousins, I apologise – as this is old news for you. You could argue that launching the film way back in the summer was a mistake considering your elections fall in November. I’d have thought launching now would have been more appropriate, but I guess Hollywood knows best. That or your politics system knows best… Both have so many similarities…

Ok, the film tells the tale that you pretty much expect it to: two men are campaigning for a Congressional seat on behalf of North Carolina. On one hand you have Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) – a career politician who’s a womaniser, liar and every other cliché you could throw at a politician. But he’s in charge. Then you have his opposition: Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) who is quite a simple guy and embodies every other cliché you could throw at Zach Galifianakis‘ on-screen roles to date. All of this electoral hoopla is controlled by “the man” and the “big corporations” embodied here by Dan Akyroyd and John Lithgow – the Motch brothers. Has this got you excited yet? What if I say there are a hell of a lot of big names that make an appearance in here? Excited? Well… manage that excitement.

The film is very middle-of-the-road. When it hit US cinemas some hailed it a comic masterpiece, whilst others snorted with derision. I do neither, but I’d certainly say it’s more worthy of a snort than hailing it as a masterpiece. Let’s get one thing straight though: Will Ferrell has made far worse films in recent years. I know that’s not saying much, but it’s true. I’ve never really understood his appeal if I’m honest. I think Anchorman is vastly overrated and he, like Galifianakis (who I’m coming to), decides to play a very similar role time after time. This is no different.

So whilst I’ve brought him up, let’s move to the second lead: Zach Galifianakis. You see, I actually do like this guy and enjoy The Hangover and Due Date – arguably his two biggest films to date. I also think his stand-up is bizarre but entertaining and his more “serious” role in It’s Kind Of A Funny Story was solidly acted and hinted at a deeper, more complex actor than you’d be led to believe. This isn’t one of those performances. Whilst I do like his schtick, Galifianakis veers very heavily towards his character from Due Date. It’s less acting and more a parody of an effeminate man from the south. It’s a bit like a sketch show if I’m honest. This might fly on Saturday Night Live, but not so much on the big screen; especially when I know the guy is capable of more than this.

I would go into depth on the plot, but it’s a Will Ferrell movie… you’re not going to walk out of this movie debating the intricacies of the story, as you may have done with Looper. In fact, I’d be surprised if you walked out and uttered much more than “that was alright”. That’s essentially all that can be drawn from the film. However, one thing that’s worth mentioning is the ending. Just what is that? It’s almost as if they’d finished filming and editing and thought “you know what, why don’t we bolt on 30 seconds more footage?”. And this 30 seconds of footage is so disconnected and horribly bolted on that it’s just… weird. A very poor choice from whoever commissioned that ending. Not that it improves or destroys what had gone before, it’s just very peculiar.

And after all that, let’s discuss what matters with a comedy: the humour. Some films can be forgiven for a dull plot by having some great laughs. This has some laughs, for sure, but with the exception of some “punchy” jokes, none have truly stuck with me since I saw the credits roll. Most of the laughs were of the “ooo, can they do that?” variety, as opposed to a well constructed joke. And by saying that, don’t think I’m a very conservative guy. I’m British – we’re used to pushing the boundaries so far over the precipice of acceptability that we’re impaled on the rocks below. I don’t know where this films on that particular cliff, but it’s definitely straddling the boundary between “good” and “ok” film…

When all’s said and done, if you’re a Will Ferrell fan, you’ll probably already have seen this film because you’re a fan of what he does. It’s amazing how much pull that guy still has, despite the fact he’s not put out a hit in quite some time. I’m sure Anchorman 2 will do big business because of this fact alone. Me? Sure, I’ll see it, but I won’t be first in line.

So on whether The Campaign should get your vote or not, I’d say that the verdict’s currently hung. But, since Film Phage isn’t like the US political system (ie., we can’t be bought… or maybe we could if we were approached), then I’d have to stick to my guns and state that this film truly is middle of the road. There will be no recounts, there will be no re-elections and there will be no sale of the votes amassed by Florida.

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