An adorable baby and the beloved pooch from “The Artist” get sucker-punched in “The Campaign,” and they’re barely the easiest of the comedy’s targets.
But even cheap shots demand some skill, and costars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis have it in spades, even when the story fails them.
The well-matched comics play equally well-suited rivals for a Congressional seat in North Carolina.
Ferrell, resurrecting his George W. Bush impersonation but with big, libidinous dollops of Bill Clinton and John Edwards, plays Cam Brady, a know-nothing Congressman who keeps his seat by pandering (“America! Freedom! Jesus!”) and following the orders of his sensible campaign manager (Jason Sudeikis).
When Brady’s philandering is exposed, two out-of-state power brokers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) smell blood. They recruit a hapless stick-man challenger to further their community-destroying corporate interests.
The dolt is Marty Huggins (Galifianakis, doing an oddly sweet spin on the effeminate Bible-thumper character from his stand-up act).
Dismissed by his own father (Brian Cox) as a cross between Richard Simmons and a hobbit, the Lady Gaga-worshipping Marty is remade (and butched up) into a coyly ruthless candidate by an amoral campaign fixer (Dylan McDermott, fine and slimy).
Director Jay Roach’s work in recent years has moved from the broad comedy of the Austin Powers and Fockers film franchises to the more outwardly sophisticated political showcases of HBO’s “Recount” and “Game Change.”
“The Campaign” fitfully puts both approaches on the same ticket. The raucous and crude go head-to-head with the satirical and savvy.
Raucous and crude wins, and “The Campaign” is more funny than trenchant. The formulaic populism (those power brokers are named the Motch brothers, most certainly to be confused with the Kochs) doesn’t stand a chance in a race with two clowns.
“The Campaign,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ***1/2 (Evans)
“The Bourne Legacy” is a two-hour roller coaster ride -- and do you really want to spend that long on a roller coaster? I started getting queasy around the 45-minute mark, at the wolf-wrestling scene.
Until then, the movie keeps you nervously off balance, explaining nothing as it cuts rapidly between Karachi, Seoul, the mountains of Alaska and other expensive-looking locations against a soundtrack that’s like a symphonic version of a car alarm.
What’s going on turns out to be vaguely related to the other “Bourne” movies. The U.S. government (spoiler alert) is shutting down a secret experimental program by killing off all its genetically enhanced participants. Number 5 (Jeremy Renner) is the one who gets away.
Renner has more than enough muscle to man his way through a big, personality-free piece of technology like this. But he’s saddled with Rachel Weisz, as a biochemist the government is also trying to kill.
The fragility that can make Weisz heartbreaking registers as hysteria in this role. In a scene that requires her to freak out after surviving a murder attempt, she just shouts. (Her ineptitude is almost endearing -- the one thing in the movie that’s on a human scale.)
The director, Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”), devotes about a minute to exposition, bringing in such stars as Edward Norton, Stacy Keach and David Strathairn to play the harried-looking government thugs.
Otherwise it’s action. The movie’s only ambition is to make your heart pound by applying relentless percussion and violent editing to the most primitive of all motion-picture structures, the chase. It works very efficiently.
“The Bourne Legacy,” from Universal, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ** (Seligman)
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Very Good ** Good * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are their own.)
Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and Lewis Lapham on books.