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'Our Brand Is Crisis' review: Politics, breezy but uneven

From left, Ann Dowd, Sandra Bullock and Reynaldo

From left, Ann Dowd, Sandra Bullock and Reynaldo Pacheco in "Our Brand Is Crisis." Credit: AP / Patti Perret

Sandra Bullock plays "Calamity" Jane Bodine, a damaged political consultant who comes out of exile for one more election in "Our Brand Is Crisis." Before you begin rooting for her, though, consider Jane's chosen assignment in Bolivia -- to tamp down a populist reformer and put a strong-arm senator in power. Her motivation isn't even money but a simmering hatred for her opposition counterpart, Pat Candy, an old nemesis played by Billy Bob Thornton. In short, Jane is not exactly the good guy.

"I could convince myself of anything if the price is right," she says in a confessional television interview that opens the film. "Truth is whatever I tell the electorate it is."

Those cynical words suggest that "Our Brand Is Crisis" has its knives out to skewer the great game of politics, but the movie lacks a killer instinct. When it works, it's an enjoyably light comedy with fine performances from an empathetic Bullock and a delightfully lascivious Thornton. (They aren't Hepburn and Tracy, but they'll do.) When it doesn't, "Our Brand Is Crisis" veers into the kind of insincerity and staged emotions that it claims to be mocking.

Directed by David Gordon Green ("Pineapple Express") from Peter Straughan's script (itself inspired by Rachel Boynton's 2005 documentary), "Our Brand Is Crisis" can't decide if it's a jaundiced spoof like "Thank You For Smoking" or an early episode of "The West Wing." Shady tactics abound -- phony leaflets, whisper campaigns, a dead llama -- but they feel like movie-plot stuff. The discussion of polls, strategy and Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" never feels like it comes from within a real campaign bunker.

Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd and Scoot McNairy play Jane's quirky cohorts, but their mercenary mentality makes them difficult to like. Likewise Jane's low-polling candidate, Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), who has all the warmth of Vladimir Putin and possibly a similar ideology. Eddie, an idealistic staffer from the slums (played by Reynaldo Pacheco), rather condescendingly stands in for poor Bolivia itself.

Ultimately, "Our Brand Is Crisis" isn't as hard-hitting, trenchant or angry as it should be. It finally addresses issues of poverty and corruption in a melodramatic ending, but it hasn't earned the right. In this movie, politics still feels like a game.


Calamity Jane, four of them, on the big screen

In "Our Brand Is Crisis," Sandra Bullock stars as a political consultant named Jane Bodine. And though the movie is set in South America and not the Wild West, everyone calls her "Calamity" Jane. Here are four women who played the actual rootin' tootin' Calam.

JEAN ARTHUR -- The squeaky-voiced star of comedies like "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (1936) looked good in Western garb as Calamity Jane in Cecil B. DeMille's "The Plainsman" (1936) opposite Gary Cooper as Wild Bill Hickok.

JANE RUSSELL -- The well-endowed bombshell's comedic assets were also on display as Calamity Jane in "The Paleface" (1948), wherein she dupes dimwitted dentist Bob Hope into a shotgun marriage. They were reteamed for 1952's "Son of Paleface."

DORIS DAY -- The popular girl next door showed off her tomboyish side playing the title role in 1953's "Calamity Jane." She also crooned one of her biggest hits, the Oscar-winning song "Secret Love."

ELLEN BARKIN -- Though Jeff Bridges was the center of attention as a lonely, middle-age Hickok in "Wild Bill" (1995) who reunites with Barkin's Calamity Jane after many years apart. The reunion includes some quality time together in a hot tub.

-- Daniel Bubbeo


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