The best thing to be said about the new political satire “Our Brand Is Crisis” is that it retains the Bolivian setting of the 2005 documentary that inspired it.
The real-world approach gives David Gordon Green’s movie a docudrama quality that befits a narrative feature born out of a nonfiction work; even if it’s fictionalized, there’s an element of truthfulness brought on by the surroundings that would have been lacking in an invented country.
The worst thing to be said about “Our Brand Is Crisis,” however, is the same thing: The decision to have the action take place in Bolivia inherently limits the satire by grounding it in a heaping dose of humanism.
We do not come to movies about the corruption inherent in branding political candidates, in spin doctoring and manipulating and molding a PR message, for a heartfelt story of one campaign maven’s awakening to what matters in the world thanks to the time she spends with real Bolivians.
No, we want merciless, ruthless mocking of the absurdity of it all. We want “Dr. Strangelove” or “Wag the Dog.”
Green gives us half of that in this picture, written by Peter Straughan, and starring Sandra Bullock as Jane Bodine, brought in to help a flagging presidential candidate in the South American nation.
Her lizardlike longtime rival Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), is shepherding the front-runner to victory, so the election becomes a battle between these foes, damn the issues or whatever actually matters.
The movie sets things up for a nice sarcastic payoff, with Green relishing the chance to play out the dirty tricks carried out by each rival. It is appropriately nihilistic in the way it considers the cynical image massaging masterminded by Jane and Pat, respectively.
There’s nothing remotely shocking about any of this, though, and it plays rather tepidly by not offering much that’s new knowledge in terms of the way campaigns are run.
Green, working with longtime cinematographer Tim Orr, brings a gritty quality to the mountainous backgrounds and rusted urban locales, and Bullock is incapable of giving anything less than an authentic performance.
The movie simply never goes far enough and remains rooted to a destructive dose of sentimentality.