[Screen It]

"OUR BRAND IS CRISIS"
(2015) (Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: A political strategist comes out of retirement to take on her nemesis who's working on the presidential election in Bolivia.
PLOT:
The presidential election in Bolivia is looming, and American campaign workers Ben (ANTHONY MACKIE) and Nell (ANN DOWD) are concerned that the candidate their working for, Senator Pedro Castillo (JOAQUIM DE ALMEIDA) -- who was once the country's unpopular ruler fifteen years ago -- is trailing his leading opponent, Rivera (LOUIS ARCELLA), by twenty-eight points with ninety days to go.

Accordingly, they visit retired political strategist Jane Bodine (SANDRA BULLOCK) in hopes of convincing her to help Castillo. She isn't interested until she learns that her arch nemesis, Pat Candy (BILLY BOB THORNTON), is working for Rivera. Not long after that, she arrives in Bolivia to work alongside Ben, Nell, media coordinator Richard Buckley (SCOOT McNAIRY) and Eddie (REYNALDO PACHECO), a young campaign worker who lives nearby.

Upon meeting Castillo, Jane isn't impressed or sure he's electable, but after a run-in with Candy, she decides to do her thing. That includes bringing her private investigator, Sara LeBlanc (ZOE KAZAN), onboard in order to dig up potential dirt on both candidates. As the days count down toward the election, Jane and Candy go head-to-head in using every political trick in their books.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Nowadays, the vast majority of politicians and especially their campaign materials are all about image. Not necessarily, and sometimes not at all, about what they really stand for and will do should they be elected, but instead just enough to manipulate common everyday folk into voting for them.

In a way, promotional material for movies often operates in the same fashion. While not going for votes (unless it's award season time), studios and related entities fashion movie posters, trailers, TV commercials and websites in such a way to get viewers to pay for movie tickets. And that sometimes includes making such promotions better than the actual candidate, um, film turns out to be (including occasionally showing material that doesn't end up in the finished product).

Offhand, I didn't pay that much attention to the trailer for "Our Brand is Crisis" in terms of the latter comparing it to what shows up in the film. But in regard to the former assessment, the several minute ad is so much better than the full length pic that the movie ends up feeling even more like a disappointment than if one simply wandered into watching it blind to what it's about.

And that would be American political strategist rivals going toe to toe in hopes of getting their candidate elected, not in the U.S., but rather in Bolivia. That might sound a bit far-fetched, but the film is based on the 2005 documentary of the same name that focused on the 2002 Bolivian presidential election where none other than James Carville worked to sully the reputation of his man's opponent in order to win the votes.

Not so subtly in terms of appearance, Billy Bob Thornton plays a Carville-type political operative named Pat Candy who's already in place for the 2005 election there where his man, Rivera (Louis Arcella), is 28 points ahead of the former president turned senator, Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), who's also trailing a number of other candidates.

Enter "Calamity Jane" Bodine to save the day. Actually, she has to be convinced by two of Castillo's campaign managers, Ben (Anthony Mackie) and Nell (Ann Dowd), to come out of retirement to take the gig. She's reluctant until she hears Candy is working for the other side, and even when she gets there and meets her man, and doesn't particularly like him or think he can win, she's not really into it. But once she sees that Candy is up to his old tricks and seems to have it out for her once again, she dives in and gets to work.

It's not a bad set-up, and the Bolivian setting differentiates the flick a bit from other political satires. Yet, despite all of that, director David Gordon Green and screenwriter Peter Straughan can't seem to agree on a tone or ways in which to make the subsequent political battle that interesting, engaging or entertaining.

As a result, I lost interest quite soon in the offering (you can feel that something is off right from the get-go) and couldn't wait for election day to arrive (much like in real life where that pivotal moment means a reprieve from the barrage of negative attack ads airing non-stop on TV).

Speaking of the latter and considering the satire aura enveloping the proceedings, I kept expecting and waiting for a lot of creativity in terms of how the political foes (meaning the strategists, not the actual candidates) waged war. There's a brief and decently executed moment of that late in the film, but that's about it. The rest is mediocre at best. Considering the premise and political satire genre, that just doesn't cut it.

It also doesn't help that the constant tonal switches are abrupt and clumsy, going from serious material where lives could matter (mainly involving Reynaldo Pacheco playing an idealistic young campaign worker who lives there) to goofy stuff such as a comedy-based bus chase between camps that culminates in Bullock's character mooning Carville's out her window.

With that flip-flopping and the lack of an imaginative battle, the leads never get the chance to get a full grasp on their characters. None stink up the place, but we never really get to know Jane or especially Candy beyond the superficial and that this is all just an ego-driven competition to them. Only at the end does Bullock's character seem to grow, but that feels little more than tacked on.

It's too little, too late for this film that not only doesn't live up to the campaign promises featured in its trailer, but also simply doesn't work for what it's trying to be. "Our Brand is Crisis" rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed October 26, 2015 / Posted October 30, 2015


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