Ann Dowd, left, portrays Nell, Sandra Bullock is Jane and Reynaldo Pacheco is Eddie in “Our Brand Is Crisis.”(Patti Perret / Warner Bros.)
Sandra Bullock and Anthony Mackie play political strategists in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Participant Media’s “Our Brand Is Crisis.”(Patti Perret / Warner Bros.)
Anthony Mackie, Sandra Bullock and Reynaldo Pacheco in “Our Brand Is Crisis.”(Warner Bros. Pictures)
Sandra Bullock, Scoot McNairy and Joaquim de Almeida in “Our Brand Is Crisis.”(Warner Bros. Pictures)
Ann Dowd in “Our Brand Is Crisis.”(Warner Bros. Pictures)
Joaquim de Almeida in “Our Brand Is Crisis.”(Warner Bros. Pictures)
Sandra Bullock portrays strategist Jane in the political satire “Our Brand Is Crisis.”(Warner Bros Pictures)
Sandra Bullock portrays political strategist Jane, who goes toe-to-toe with rival Pat Candy, played by Billy Bob Thornton.(Warner Bros Pictures)
Like the politicians and political consultants it mocks, “Our Brand Is Crisis” doesn’t completely deliver on what it promises. Nominally a satiric comedy, the film is only sporadically effective, running out of energy before it reaches the end.
To its credit, “Crisis,” directed by David Gordon Green, is the rare major studio comedy to have anything serious on its mind, and that’s because its plot was inspired by an excellent Rachel Boynton documentary that came out a decade ago.
Boynton’s remarkable film, also called “Our Brand Is Crisis,” went behind the scenes as a high-powered American political consulting firm — one that included James Carville — attempted to guide an unpopular Bolivian ex-president to another term in office.
As written by Peter Straughan, the fictional “Crisis” is also set during a Bolivian presidential campaign, though this time the film’s savvy political strategist is a woman, Jane Bodine, nicknamed “Calamity Jane” because of the chaos she invariably brings in her wake.
That change of gender is the best creative decision “Crisis” made, because it opened up a part for Sandra Bullock, a practiced farceur and someone with the fearless energy needed to make things funny.
Balanced against that, however, is the film’s lackadaisical pacing, which means “Crisis” takes awhile to get into gear.
The narrative starts with political operatives Ben (Anthony Mackie) and Nell (Anne Dowd) driving to the remote snowy fastness where Jane lives in quiet, pottery-making retirement. No longer burned out by campaign trail excesses, she neither smokes nor drinks and claims “I’m better than happy. I’m calm.”
Jane says no, but Ben and Nell have a secret weapon: Castillo’s top opponent is being advised by Jane’s bête noir, a rival consultant named Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton at his most Mephistophelian) who has beaten her every time they’ve gone head to head. Game on, Jane says, game on.
Still, it’s not like Jane hits the ground running. A combination of altitude sickness and general lethargy makes her less than completely involved. Until one of Candy’s patented dirty tricks lights a fire under her.
When Jane gets involved, the entire film moves into a higher gear. Rather than change the candidate, she attempts to change the thrust of the national campaign to fit his strengths. In other words, she manufactures a sense of crisis and presents Castillo as a fighter with the best chance of dealing with it.
But just when the film should be increasing its momentum and revealing even more about how campaigns really work, it stalls. Like “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” an earlier collaboration between Straughan and producers Grant Heslov and George Clooney, “Crisis” has difficulty deciding whether it’s a comedy or something more serious, and that indecision proves fatal.
Rather than continue in a satiric mode, “Crisis” gets increasingly fascinated by one of its least-involving characters, a young Bolivian named Eddie (Reynaldo Pacheco) whose earnest belief in political democracy leads to some dead-end plot detours.
‘Our Brand Is Crisis’
MPAA rating: R, for language including some sexual references
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Playing: In general release