'Our Brand Is Crisis' (R)

Election campaigns are not about politics. They are about how effectively the public’s perception can be twisted toward or against a certain candidate.

It’s the same approach used in making a movie.

It’s the job of the writer and director to take a subject and manipulate how it’s presented to make an audience laugh, cry, get mad or be blown away. Failure to do that gets a negative vote from moviegoers.

The effort by Our Brand Is Crisis director David Gordon Green and writer Peter Straughan to turn the 2005 documentary of the same name into a light comedy with touches of romance and political hijinks leave the fictional version a poor candidate in the box office race.

The 2005 documentary looked at the 2002 Bolivian presidential election, which through some fancy political maneuvering by the Greenberg Carville Shrum campaign strategists, resulted in the surprise election of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada over Evo Morales.

There is no way the drama of the real election could be surpassed — or even matched — by a fictionalized accounting. Green and Straughan’s efforts do nothing more than water down the story.

Taking on the role of the political strategist in the fictionalized version (James Carville was involved in the real election) is Sandra Bullock. Her character, nicknamed “Calamity” Jane Bodine, has a sharp mind for winning political campaigns as long as she can deal with her bouts of alcohol abuse and depression.

She’s called in to help a struggling candidate in the Bolivian presidential race. He’s so far back in the polling that only a miracle could help him win. Bodine performs the miracle by taking the approach that the country is in crisis and only a seasoned politician can face the challenges ahead. Toss in some leaked press stories, false news tips and assorted other underhanded efforts and the race begins to tighten.

Had the focus been on the race and the political battles, the movie would have tracked better. Instead, we get overly slapstick moments, like seeing Bodine throwing up because of altitude sickness (is puking even funny to anyone?), hints of romance between Bodine and Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), who is her counterpart on the other side, and a weird montage of Bodine’s drunken night. There’s even an attempt to milk a laugh out of a llama being killed.

As it is, Our Brand Is Crisis is like a third-party candidate who enters a race in the final weeks. Any good qualities just don’t get exposed and the candidate gets lost in the pack no matter how much manipulation is happening.

Cast: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Zoe Kazan.

Director: David Gordon Green.

Screenwriter: Peter Straughan.

A Warner Bros. release. Running time: 103 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual references. Opens Friday Nov. 7 at area theaters.

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