“No one watches a car race to see who wins, only who crashes and goes up in flames.” Sandra Bullock’s (“Gravity”) character, Jane Bodine, fittingly known as “Calamity,” relates this quote to politics, and how most people just enjoy seeing who crashes and burns, not who wins. Ironically, this quote also describes most of “Our Brand Is Crisis:” a series of crashes and burns.
Hopelessly struggling in the Bolivian polls, Pedro Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida, “Fast Five”) — the fictionalized version of 2002 presidential candidate Sánchez de Lozada — hires an American campaign management team. Bodine leads the team as their strategist. She reluctantly decides to join the team when she learns that her old political rival, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton, “Entourage”), is working for the opposing candidate, Victor Rivera (Louis Arcella, “The Family”). The politics quickly turn dirty, and Bodine doesn’t hesitate to carry out illegal action to ensure Castillo wins.
The first noticeable sign of the film’s poor quality is its horrendous cinematography, which is best indicated by the cringe-inducing use of slow motion. Instead of enhancing scenes by increasing the emotion or tension, it’s used during bland moments, like when Bodine is simply walking out of her office — suddenly her walking is slowed, but she resumes her normal pace the second she steps outside. This would have made more sense thematically had it been preceded by an inspirational speech or dramatic breakthrough with Castillo.
Along with the excessive visual effects, the movie is cluttered with scenes that add zero relevant substance. For some absurd reason, the director felt it necessary to yet again highlight Bodine’s irrational decision making. Watching Bullock moon Rivera and his team after overtaking them in a race through the jungle could have possibly been comical, but it completely misses the mark as far as humorous moments go.
The one positive aspect, though far from a saving grace, is the character dynamic between Bodine and Ben (Anthony Mackie, “The Avengers: Age of Ultron”). This adds a sense of realism to the otherwise far-fetched movie. They push each other to be the best and eventually come to understand each other on a deeper level than typical coworkers. When Bodine jumps out of the car during the last riot, which indicates her choosing to stay and combat corruption running rampant throughout Bolivia, Ben understands her choice without having to exchange any words — he simply nods and says, “OK.”
The other members of Castillo’s hired campaign crew only add to the clutter. While private investigator LeBlanc (Zoe Kazan, “The Walker”) and former State Department member Nell (Ann Dowd, “The Leftovers”) fall to the background, TV ad director Buckley (Scott McNairy, “Halt and Catch Fire”) sorely sticks out as the obnoxious, condescending asshole. After the first few surprisingly comical comments, the viewer might reasonably want to punch him in the face. Buckley spends so much time criticizing others that he is utterly useless in forwarding Castillo’s campaign.
The puerile image of Bullock falling down the stairs in this ill-conceived dramedy perfectly displays how this film is a major downfall in her acting career. So, if you’re looking for entertainment this weekend, you might have a better time reading about the 2002 Bolivian election on Wikipedia than watching “Our Brand Is Crisis.”