Lawrence Toppman

‘Our Brand Is Crisis’: A movie for the hard-of-thinking

Sandra Bullock stars as 'Calamity' Jane Bodine, left, and Anthony Mackie in Warner Bros. Pictures' “Our Brand Is Crisis.”
Sandra Bullock stars as 'Calamity' Jane Bodine, left, and Anthony Mackie in Warner Bros. Pictures' “Our Brand Is Crisis.” Warner Bros. Pictures

I am trying to remember the last time before Tuesday that I sat through a film without a character I cared about or an incident that surprised me or roused my emotions. I guess “Our Brand Is Crisis” has wiped previous offenders from my memory.

Director David Gordon Green steers a clumsy course between crass humor and sudden drama. Writer Peter Straughan, plummeting from the Oscar-nominated heights of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” panders to moviegoers the way scurvy politicians pander to ignorant voters.

When an audience member asked me why Sandra Bullock would agree to star or George Clooney would produce (with Grant Heslov), I could conjure only one explanation: They think this story will stagger us by revealing the double-dealing inherent in modern elections. Anyone under the mental age of 10 may well be startled.

Bullock plays Jane, a burned-out election consultant brought out of retirement to help an unpopular right-wing politician win the Bolivian presidency. Her longtime nemesis, an equally creepy adviser (Billy Bob Thornton), has been hired to boost the left-wing presidential candidate.

These two amoral Americans try to outcheat and outlie each other, while he attempts to get into her pants as well as her mind. Meanwhile, the hypocritical windbags they represent blather on meaninglessly.

Green’s sense of humor comes out in a vomiting scene, a naked butt shoved out a bus window, a lump of excrement sent across a hotel lobby via slingshot. At the same time, he wants us to invest ourselves in Jane’s late and absurdly improbable crisis of conscience, as she watches a naive young Bolivian’s illusions about democracy crumble.

Bullock’s performance catches fire slowly, but she gives everything she’s got. Thornton smirks. Joaquim de Almeida gives a dull performance as Jane’s candidate, a dull man. Anthony Mackie gets to be the token voice of dignity and responsibility; that role is traditionally given to a black actor in shallow movies full of venal white people.

Tim Orr’s cinematography captures every mood beautifully, but his pictures don’t compensate for a thousand ill-chosen words. This is the kind of movie where a supposedly brilliant consultant doesn’t check facts on the Internet and a native Bolivian can’t pronounce “llama” correctly.

The film sets its unsubtle tone early on, as Jane’s candidate schmoozes a crowd while the song “Puppet Man” plays on the soundtrack. Hang on: Candidates are puppets of people who use them for inappropriate ends? Alert the media!

Toppman: 704-358-5232

Our Brand Is Crisis


Cast: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Joaquim de Almeida.

Director: David Gordon Green.

Length: 107 minutes.

Rating: R (language, including some sexual references).