24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Jay Roach

CinemaCon: Jay Roach's 'The Campaign' skewers American politics

April 25, 2012 | 10:30 am


Last year, George Clooney presented his rather cynical perspective on the state of American politics with the drama "The Ides of March." This year, director Jay Roach will offer up a film that arguably has an equally jaded viewpoint, but one which aims to express that acrimony through humor.

"The Campaign," due out in August, stars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as rival politicians campaigning for a seat in Congress from North Carolina. Roach was inspired to work on the film after recent campaigns which featured negative advertising and over-the-top debates.

"Truth is even stranger than fiction right now, because the political system is pushing people to such extremes to make a splash," said Roach, who was in Las Vegas this week to promote the comedy at CinemaCon. "It's about who can do the most expensive series of campaign ads to crush your opponent with damning, scandalous facts."

To gather material for the screenplay, Roach and writer Chris Henchy have been steadfast about keeping up with the news -- checking the headlines each day to make sure their script "was still as funny as the real life stuff." 

"A lot of what's going on that gets the most media attention right now is designed to be outrageous. It's almost like being Sacha Baron Cohen; to be noticed, you have to do something so ridiculous," said Roach, who also directed the recent HBO movie about Sarah Palin, "Game Change." " Our thing is to raise questions through comedy like, 'Really? Is this where we're all heading?' Politics is so entertainment-oriented now, and so reality show-like. A movie with two hilarious guys is actually the perfect arena."

Fans of Ferrell may immediately draw comparisons between the actor's performance in the film and his "Saturday Night Live" impression of George W. Bush. But Henchy insists Ferrell is doing something different in "The Campaign" -- more of a Bush-John Edwards hybrid.

"It does take place in North Carolina, so he's got a Southern accent, but he's also got good hair," the writer said. 


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-- Amy Kaufman in Las Vegas


Photo: Zach Galifianakis, left, and Will Ferrell star in "The Campaign." Credit: Warner Bros.

'Little Fockers': Why is it so easy to mess up a comedy?

December 28, 2010 |  4:47 pm

It's rare to find critics and audiences agreeing so heartily on anything. But such is the power of "Little Fockers."

Critics thought the Ben Stiller-Robert De Niro threequel was one of the worst movies of 2010 -- a dismal 4% of the top reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes deemed it fresh.  And for once, audiences didn't disagree with them -- more than a third of the moviegoers who turned out for the second film didn't show up this time. Those that did weren't impressed: They gave it a middling B- CinemaScore.

When a film performs this badly, there are usually more culprits than a bank-robber convention. And so the post-holiday Hollywood chatter went. The in-law antagonism felt overplayed. Dustin Hoffman needed to be dialed in at the end of the production. The movie's release was pushed back from the summer, a sign of a problem if not a problem in itself. Third installments of live-action franchises rarely work. And adding young children to any comedy franchise, on the big or small screen, is the surest sign of a shark-jump.

But on this long list of factors, it's worth looking in one place in particular: the director's chair. Both "Meet the Parents" and "Meet the Fockers" were helmed by Jay Roach, the rare filmmaker who can balance the slapstick and the subtle in comedy. Including "Parents" and "Fockers," Roach (who has an Emmy under his belt for the dramatic "Recount") is responsible for four comedy mega-hits that critics liked nearly as much as audiences ("Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" and "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" are the other two).

Roach decided not to go for the hat-trick on "Fockers" -- he learned his lesson, apparently, from the last time he tried that, on "Austin Powers in Goldmember" -- and decided to make "Dinner for Schmucks" instead. (He's credited as a producer on "Fockers" but he was concentrating on "Schmucks" much of the time "Fockers" was being made.)  So in his place the production went with Paul Weitz, the "American Pie" director who hasn't done much funny on this side of the 21st century (last credit: "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant").

But it would be unfair to blame Weitz entirely. Many who've gone before him have also stumbled. Top-tier comedy directors are a rare breed in the first place, and even those who reach that status rarely achieve any consistency. Often they spin their wheels trying to do something more serious, a la Judd Apatow and "Funny People." Or they simply find their touch, and the times, suddenly eluding them, something that was painfully obvious with James L. Brooks' recent "How Do You Know."

John Hughes was one of the few to buck the trend, but that was a different time, and his was a different comedy. Shawn Levy was considered an exception too, but then came "Date Night."

The lack of reliability is why comedies so often get made on the basis of their star (and why, in turn, every third comedy in this country involves Adam Sandler). When that star does come on board, studios often don't even bother trying with a real filmmaker and just bring in a director who doesn't cost much and knows when to get out of the way.

Weitz is better than that. But he's not that much better. His punchless movie, in a season of punchless movies, makes you realize that if someone's going to make a comedy they should try to get a Jay Roach or maybe they shouldn't try at all.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Little Fockers." Credit: Universal Pictures


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