By Richard Roeper
FOR A manic-depressive, alcoholic, washed-up political consultant of a certain age who’s dealing with altitude sickness in strife-torn Bolivia, and, oh yeah, she’s just taken up smoking again, Jane Bodine sure looks amazing.
Granted, her outfits are a disaster, her hair is usually disheveled (albeit in a $200 salon job kind of way), and she moans about how lousy she feels — but COME ON. The rosy cheekbones, the fashionably oversized specs, the killer smile, the great gams on display as she tiptoes about in panties and an oversized shirt: What a knockout.
Let’s just say Sandra Bullock isn’t going the full Charlize Theron in Monster/Nicole Kidman in The Hours route for Our Brand is Crisis, a mixed-bag satire with ambitions that veer wildly from sharp political insight to slapstick farce to inspirational semi-autobiography.
It never finds solid ground in any of those genres.
We’re told Our Brand is Crisis is “suggested by” Rachel Boynton’s 2005 documentary of the same name, which chronicled the escapades of an American consulting firm hired to resuscitate the fading campaign of a former president of Bolivia trying to recapture the title.
When we meet Jane Bodine (Bullock), she’s a forgotten footnote of the modern American campaign wars — a one-time hotshot whose ruthless strategies and self-destructive habits earned her the nickname “Calamity Jane” and flushed her right out of the business.
Jane’s living in a remote cabin, making bad pottery and apparently muttering to herself, until one day her old friend and campaign teammate Nell (Ann Dowd) and a skeptical young hotshot (Anthony Mackie) show up at her door with the offer of a job no one else will touch: lending a hand to the nearly dead campaign of Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), a former and quite unpopular president of Bolivia who is polling in the single digits and trails a half-dozen other candidates.
And just like that we’re in Bolivia (actually Louisiana and Puerto Rico), plunged into a bumpy adventure with hints of Wag the Dog, The Candidate, Bulworth and Duck Soup — all far superior films.
Billy Bob Thornton shows up in full snake-charmer mode as Pat Candy, a shameless political operator and sexist pig who has defeated Jane’s candidates time and again, and once again seems to be backing the right horse. (Thornton looks and even sounds a bit like a lower-intensity James Carville, the focus of the 2005 documentary.)
Zoe Kazan is LeBlanc, Jane’s secret weapon, whose specialty is digging up dirt on candidates. Reynaldo Pacheco is Eddie, an idealistic Bolivian volunteer for Castillo. Neither character is particularly well-drawn beyond those traits.
Working from a screenplay by Peter Straughan, director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, The Sitter, the raunchy and funny HBO series Eastbound and Down) is all over the place with his tone. Like most let’s-get-wasted montages, a sequence where Jane and crew get messed up and engage in wacky hijinks is tedious stretching to the point of irritating. (It’s like being sober in a room filled with obnoxious drunks who mistakenly think they’re funny.)
Jane’s relapses, from her addictions to her unbalanced behavior, are treated mostly as comedic touchstones, until suddenly we’re told she’s a deeply troubled person and, dammit, this is serious. Revelations about Jane’s past make us like her less at a point when we should be sympathizing with her situation and caring about what she’ll do next.
Bullock and Thornton are smooth and sly in their scenes together, but he’s such a creep and she’s such a wreck, they don’t deserve each other — they should just be miserable in neutral corners.
Also, it’s hard to recall a movie with so many characters quoting so many historical figures, from Sun Tzu to Winston Churchill to a certain German author. Movie people recite direct quotes — and correct each other’s quotes — about 100 times as often as real people do that.
Even with scenes involving the cynical candidate Castillo and the idealistic Eddie, Our Brand Is Crisis remains all about Calamity Jane. The volatile economic climate, the candidates promising to give Bolivia her freedom, the struggles of the people — all just background noise to beautiful Jane and her last shot at redemption. — Chicago Sun-Times/Universal Uclick
Rating: 2 stars
MTRCB Rating: R-13