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'Our Brand Is Crisis' Stalls And Stumbles


Now let's see if some Hollywood producers were able to pull off something rare. They took a serious documentary and have tried to turn it into a comedy. The 2005 documentary focused on American political consultants working abroad. The new comedy is called "Our Brand Is Crisis." Here's film critic Kenneth Turan.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: Like the politicians and the political consultants it mocks, "Our Brand Is Crisis" doesn't completely deliver on what it promises. Nominally a satiric comedy, it's only sporadically effective, running out of energy before it reaches the end. Like the documentary it's based on, the fictional crisis is also set during a Bolivian presidential campaign. This time the film's savvy political strategist is a woman, Jane Bodine, nicknamed Calamity Jane. That change of gender is the best creative decision "Crisis" made because it opened up a part for Sandra Bullock, someone with the fearless energy needed to make things funny. Jane quit politics because it destroyed her life, but she's lured back in because a rival candidate has hired her nemesis, a consultant played by Billy Bob Thornton at his most Machiavellian. Listen as they get reacquainted.


BILLY BOB THORNTON: (As Pat Candy) Jane Bodine - how are you, honey?

SANDRA BULLOCK: (As Jane Bodine) Pat.

THORNTON: (As Pat Candy) So, what are you doing here? I thought you retired or gave up or something.

BULLOCK: (As Jane Bodine) Nope, not retired.

THORNTON: (As Pat Candy) You look tired. You OK?

BULLOCK: (As Jane Bodine) I think so, I think I'm good. Why?

THORNTON: (As Pat Candy) I don't know, you just look a little beat.

BULLOCK: (As Jane Bodine) What happened to your hair?

THORNTON: (As Pat Candy) You still got a great sense of humor.

TURAN: Once Jane catches fire, which takes a while, the entire film moves into a higher gear. Rather than change the candidate, she attempts to change the campaign to fit his strengths. And she gives the staff one hell of a pep talk.


BULLOCK: (As Jane Bodine) And if anyone has any qualms about this, thinks it's wrong in some way, you come and talk to me - OK? - because there's only one wrong in this - only one, and that is losing.

TURAN: But just when the film should be increasing its momentum and revealing even more about how campaigns really work, it stalls. "Our Brand Is Crisis" wants to have it both ways. It wants to titillate with dirty tricks performed by cynics who believe if voting changed anything they'd make it illegal, while at the same time pounding the drum for the power of the people to make things right. With a foot in both camps, a stumble was all but inevitable.

GREENE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and also for the Los Angeles Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.