Video Verdict: ‘The Campaign,’ ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’

Will Ferrell (front) and Zach Galifianakis play dueling politicians in the comedy “The Campaign.”

A political comedy starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis anchors this week’s crop of home video releases.

The Campaign

3 stars (out of four)
Rated R for crude sexual content, language and brief nudity
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

As we move closer to one of the most contentious presidential elections in memory, the country is ready to let off some steam and laugh. “The Campaign” not only provides that opportunity, it produces its chuckles while delivering a well-deserved skewering of the American political process.

The film centers on Democratic Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell), a long-term politician who has grown accustomed to running unopposed. Just as Cam is going to claim his fifth consecutive term, he gets caught in a sex scandal. Sensing Cam’s weakness, two powerful businessmen (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) decide to back a Republican candidate in hopes of stealing the election. Because they want someone they can manipulate, they settle on Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), the naïve-but-good-hearted son of a business associate.

Faced with running his first campaign in more than a decade, Cam decides to play dirty and ruin Marty’s pristine reputation. At first, Cam’s heartless tactics shock Marty, but it doesn’t take long for him to get just as nasty. From that point forward, “The Campaign” propels us through an ugly – yet consistently funny – political dogfight.

Perhaps the best thing about the movie is that its jokes are steeped in reality. Although overplayed for the sake of parody, many of the political stunts that Cam and Marty pull seem painfully familiar. The film also has subplots commenting on everything from corporate involvement in the political process to the corrupting influence of absolute power.

Ferrell and Galifianakis do a fine job with their characters, exaggerating them for comic effect yet instilling them with recognizable political traits. The film also has a fine supporting cast, including not only Lithgow and Akyroyd but Bryan Cox, Dylan McDermott and Jason Sudeikis.

Screenwriters Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell provided director Jay Roach (“Dinner for Schmucks,” “Meet the Parents”) with a bunch of solid gags, and he makes the most of them, spacing the jokes just far enough apart to keep audiences laughing through the movie’s entire 85-minute run.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a collection of deleted scenes.

Safety Not Guaranteed

3 stars (out of four)
Rated R for language including some sexual references
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

With his first feature film, director Colin Trevorrow has crafted a quirky, independent dramedy that examines deep human issues while avoiding solemnity. The story – written by Derek Connolly – is a simple one. Seattle Magazine reporter Jeff Schwensen (Jake Johnson) discovers a classified advertisement placed by someone claiming to seek a partner for a time-travel adventure. The bizarre nature of the ad, including the disclaimer “safety not guaranteed,” convinces Jeff that it could lead to a story. So, he sets off with two magazine interns, Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni), in hopes of landing a feature.

The reporters learn that the advertisement was placed by Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass), a loveable oddball who swears he has unlocked the secrets of time travel. Darius asks to become his travel partner, without revealing her true identity, and much of the movie centers on the developing relationship between these two characters.

Through multi-layered storytelling, Trevorrow addresses complex issues, such as the role our past plays in determining our future and the natural human desire to return to perceived “golden days.” The movie also examines what it means to be a societal outsider.

“Safety Not Guaranteed” has flaws, most notably that Trevorrow and Connolly fail to explore the ramifications of Darius using deception for personal gain. Fortunately, plenty of movies have focused almost entirely on this theme, meaning its avoidance can be interpreted as daring.

A movie like “Safety Not Guaranteed” is largely dependent on tone and character development. That means the cast plays a huge role in the film’s success. Plaza, Johnson, Soni and Duplass infuse their characters with just enough nuance to avoid caricature, while simultaneously making their types recognizable and relatable. The upshot is a movie that most anyone can identify with and enjoy.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of feature.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Rosemary’s Baby”: Director Roman Polanski’s 1968 horror film, about a pregnant woman (Mia Farrow) who becomes increasingly concerned about the child growing within her, is a genre classic. The Criterion Collection is delivering this high-definition restoration just a day before Halloween, making it a perfect choice for holiday parties.

“Americano”: Mathieu Demy wrote, directed and stars in this drama about a man surprised by what he finds when he travels from Europe to Los Angeles to settle the estate of his deceased mother. Salma Hayek also stars.

“The Carol Burnett Show” – The Ultimate Collection: In September, Time Life released a variety of two-disc DVD sets loaded with episodes of the Carol Burnett comedy show. Now, the distributor is trotting out the 22-disc Ultimate Collection. It features 50 episodes that that were hand picked by Burnett. It also has more than 20 hours of extras and a 20-page book, making it a nice Christmas gift for the true fan. Time Life is only selling this massive set online at http://www.carolondvd.com.

“Copper”: First 10 episodes of the BBC drama about a police officer working the streets of New York City during the American Civil War. Tom Weston-Jones, Kyle Schmid, Anastasia Griffith and Franka Potente star.

“Metalocalypse – Season IV”: Twelve episodes of the animated series about a heavy metal band called Dethklok. The voice cast includes show creators Brendon Small and Tommy Blacha, and the fourth season features guest appearances by Dweezil Zappa, Jon Hamm, Werner Herzog and others.

“Chuck” – The Complete Series: This espionage dramedy was constantly in danger of cancellation during its run on NBC. Still, it lasted five seasons, each one of them outstanding. Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski, Joshua Gomez and Adam Baldwin star.

“The Streets of San Francisco” – Season 5, Volumes 1 & 2: Paramount brings the final 24 episodes of this 1970s police drama to video with two separate sets, each one containing 12 episodes. Karl Malden stars as detective Mike Stone and Richard Hatch plays his partner, Dan Robbins.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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