Preachy political satire



108 minutes/Now showing/ 2.5/5

The story: Elections strategist-for-hire Jane Bodine (Sandra Bullock) is lured out of retirement by the prospect of a face-off with rival Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton) in Bolivia. Bodine has to revive the flagging campaign of presidential hopeful Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida), while Candy works for an opposing candidate.

The quality bar has never been higher in the genre of political satire. On television productions such as Veep and House Of Cards, the acid has never been more biting or the humour blacker.

These shows work not because we are shocked to learn that politicians are petty and opportunistic. We already know that. We watch because the dark heart of the machine is exposed.

On the surface, this movie has all the hallmarks of the same fun, cynical look at how the wool is pulled over the eyes of voters.

Based on a 2005 documentary about a real election in Bolivia, it opens promisingly with Jane Bodine (Bullock) showcased as a campaign strategist, a doctor of spin who can make a monster electable through dirty tricks, disinformation and the right colour of sweater.

But just as Bodine is about to stain the purity of the politics of the once-innocent nation of Bolivia, the story takes a preachy turn.

Her backstory, one that calls for her to earn redemption, leaks out, for example. She meets idealistic followers who believe that a change of presidents means a better life for the poverty-stricken native people. What follows is predictable.

The jokes are scarce and when they appear, land awkwardly. This does not seem to be the fault of screen- writer Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, 2011) as it is director David Gordon Green's.

Candy makes a weirdly sexual non sequitur that would not be out of place in Green's previous directing job at the cable sitcom Eastbound And Down.

The fact-based, mildly comedic take on institutional dysfunction bears a resemblance to the awful The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009).

No coincidence: Straughan wrote the script and the team of Grant Heslov and George Clooney produced it, as well as this movie.

Six years on, none of them seems to have learnt anything about making a good message movie. For them, an external consultant might not be the worst idea.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2016, with the headline 'Preachy political satire'. Print Edition | Subscribe