When a movie stars Sandra Bullock, features the George Clooney-Grant Heslov production team, and is directed by an indie darling like David Gordon Green, one would expect nothing short of box office success and critical excellence. Unfortunately, “Our Brand Is Crisis” may suffer from having too many cooks in the kitchen.
This political satire, based on real events surrounding a James Carville-influenced election in Bolivia, isn’t quite sure what direction it wants to go in. There are several scenes of great hilarity, mostly due to the impeccable skills of Bullock, but the movie is scattered and moves from satire to cautionary tale to zany comedy far too quickly to really have a stranglehold on any particular theme.
Bullock plays Jane Bodine, a “retired” political operative that specializes in getting the unelectable elected. Due to various issues in her past, Jane secludes herself to a snowy mountain cabin where she obsessively makes her own pottery. She is recruited by an old friend, Nell (Ann Dowd), to join her and Ben (Anthony Mackie) in attempting to get a washed up and unloved Bolivian politician, Senator Castillo (the always great Joaquim de Almeida), elected President.
Jane reluctantly agrees, but only after learning that an adversary is working for the man currently leading the polls. That man is Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), who behaves exactly like one would expect a political slime ball with a razor shaved head to behave. Candy looks like a carbon copy of James Carville, which is quite amusing as Bullock’s Jane is actually based on the real life political pundit.
One of the funnier running gags in “Our Brand Is Crisis” is Jane’s elevation sickness. She is immediately sick when arriving in La Paz, dragging an oxygen tank around and vomiting at inopportune moments. She mostly lays around, eating various snacks, while openly criticizing Castillo, the man paying her to help him get elected.
Something happens to Castillo after a debate that lights a fire under Jane, as she translates it to a direct attack on her by Candy. She immediately launches to action, firing out orders and ruthlessly pulling no punches as to why Castillo is polling in single digits.
This is where “Our Brand Is Crisis” begins to falter. It’s as if the movie wants to have its cake and eat it too, thrusting in zany, slapstick comedy (such as Jane mooning the opposition), the problems of American involvement in foreign elections, and the moral dilemma of selling your soul for cash.
Director Green packs all of that in and Peter Straughan’s script doesn’t waste time, with all of those topics touched in just 107 minutes. Green’s fingerprints are all over a few sequences, particularly one when Jane’s wheels completely fly off as she boozes it up with a few local Bolivians, but there are several heavy handed moments that are far too dramatic when surrounded by such lunacy.
Pat Candy is the type of role that only Billy Bob Thornton can pull off. He’s on top of his charming arrogance game here, even making the worst of the worst slang terms for the female anatomy funny. As he usually does, Thornton takes a despicable, hatable character and makes you want to see him on screen as much as possible.
Even though “Our Brand Is Crisis” is a bit too herky jerky and all over the place, it’s not the fault of Sandra Bullock. This is a risky role for someone so universally. She constantly looks haggard, puffy eyed, and never for one second the glamorous “Sandra Bullock” that one would expect. She is the source of virtually every laugh in “Our Brand Is Crisis”, mostly at her own expense.
Whether it be the script or at the behest of producers, “Our Brand Is Crisis” wraps itself up with a shiny bow, pointed towards a happy ending. It’s just another moment that doesn’t quite make sense when in the context of the rest of the movie. After watching almost two hours of cynicism and absurdity surrounding characters who aren’t interested in the “greater good” for even a millisecond, it seems pretty far fetched for any of them to suddenly have an epiphany.
It’s not that “Our Brand Is Crisis” isn’t entertaining, it’s that it seems like it could have been so much more. In stores on Tuesday, February 2.