In this insistently bright and shiny George Clooney-produced political comedy (super loosely) based on a (much better) 2005 documentary of the same title, Sandra Bullock plays “Calamity” Jane Bodine, a scandalized, burned-out and ruthless political strategist put out to retirement/exile in a backwoods cabin. She quotes Sun Tzu and scarfs junk food. She trips over herself but, even in her current status as a reclusive screw-up and head case, she can still command a room. Utterly lacking a moral compass, Jane gets baited back into the game of winning hearts and minds by a cynical pair of political consultants, played by the wonderful Ann Dowd and also Anthony Mackie. They offer her a shit ton if she’ll go to Bolivia to meddle in the presidential campaign of a desperately unpopular, unlikable ex-president (Joaquim de Almeida, excellent) hungry to rule the troubled, strife-torn South American country again.
Jane’s mission? Breed fear and chaos in the populace and secure the reelection of a filthy rich scoundrel. The cherry on top? She’ll get to even the score with her scummy longtime arch rival (Billy Bob Thornton playing a character based on James Carville), another spin-doctor who’s been hired by the opposing candidate, a reform-minded socialist. The premise sets us up for a biting political satire about yet another team of Americans – including such aces as Scoot McNairy as a dippy videographer and a completely underused Zoe Kazan – blundering blindly into foreign affairs, unleashing casual calamity, then cutting and running. But bite requires fangs and neither the fuzzy, oddly shapeless screenplay by Peter Straughn (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) nor the amiable but meandering direction by the increasingly unknowable David Gordon Green (George Washington, Pineapple Express) have the stuff to leave a mark.
Way back in the day, just imagine the malicious fun a Kubrick or Altman could have done with such tasty, nasty stuff. Even by comparison to, say, episodes of the hilarious and trenchant Veep or The Thick of It, Our Brand Is Crisis feels stale, under-characterized, and unfunny. But then there is Bullock, who, sensing a power vacuum, takes charge of the misguided, wobbly affair by swinging for the fences. She showcases her killer comic timing and flair for physical comedy, feathering-in added layers of depth and vulnerability that help make her character one of the more memorable in recent movie memory. And to think, the role was written originally for George Clooney. If by the wholly unconvincing finale, the movie’s brand is mediocrity, the constantly undervalued Bullock’s brand is insane likability and knowhow.