Bulworth
Director: Warren Beatty. Cast: Warren Beatty, Halle Berry, Oliver Platt, Joshua Malina, Ariyan Johnson, Michele Morgan, Paul Sorvino, Jack Warden, Don Cheadle, Laurie Metcalf, Isaiah Washington, Christine Baranski, Wendell Pierce. Screenplay: Warren Beatty and Jeremy Pikser.

Bulworth epitomizes the sort of film that gets lots of points for ambition and concept but fails in practice to live up to its own audaciously stated potential. Writer-director-producer Beatty stars as Senator Jay Bulworth, a disillusioned and frazzled legislator who has come to the very end of his rope and wishes to be assassinated rather than endure the crucible of another re-election campaign. Figuring he has nothing to lose in the couple of days before his planned execution, Bulworth throws political guile to the wind and actually calls the shots as he sees them during some outrageously coarse "speeches" that generally alienate whatever voting body it is currently his job to court.

There are some fiery moments at the beginning of this picture, though most of the best are familiar from the well-designed preview trailer. A formal dinner-party thrown by some big-wig, deep-pocketed Hollywood producers gives Bulworth the occasion to diminish the value of these movie moguls' product but defend his own presence at their watering hole by confessing, "I always have my guys put the big Jews on my schedule." The sequence manages to be monumentally uncouth and a well-aimed arrow at the heart of false political correctness, though it also makes Movieland titans like Beatty himself seem rather small and droll. Beatty's performances—especially in projects like Shampoo, Reds, or Bugsy in which his own creative hand has flexed considerably—always showcase the actor's generous sense of humor in lampooning his own image. Bulworth is no exception, and for a while longer, the new film remains entertaining if not actually galvanizing while the Senator ditches stumping appointments to instead cavort with Halle Berry at an urban nightclub and even to break into spasms of terrfically awkward freestyle rap. Oliver Platt, who does nothing better than play the embarrassed onlooker, gets plenty of opportunities to be just that as the campaign manager who can't figure out why his boss has freaked out.

It doesn't take long, though, for Bulworth to wear out its welcome and coast on its own eccentric concept through a good forty-five minutes that is dramatically frayed and comically parched. Beatty and co-writer Jeremy Pikser ditch the Bulworth As Straight-Shooter concept for a vastly less interesting and less provocative vision of Bulworth as White Guy Who Seems Funny When Trying to Rap. Why does he keep doing this, so relentless in his unlikely behavior that Bulworth is not appreciably different from The Waterboy, or from any other post-SNL project that extends one joke into an aerated two hours of dwindling inspiration?

The worst-case interpretive angle that the movie fails to discount is that Bulworth is reaching a largely Black demographic because, unlike any politician before him, he takes the trouble to recast his positions into a rhyme structure that the community understands—as though the same notions delievered in standard speech would confound these hip-hop enthusiasts. (And as if the Black urban community includes no one who isn't a hip-hop fanatic.) Halle Berry, already unconvincing as a steely woman of street credibility, is given a token moment in which to hold forth with shocking perception and eloquence on the ghettoization of Black communities (in both the geographic and spiritual connotations), but her suddenly proclaimed perception is thereafter ignored and she retreats again to playing the Pretty Young Thing. Word to Warren: either let her be smart or let her be sexy, but don't alternate between the two. Certainly don't expect Berry, of all actresses, to pull them both off at once.

Bulworth ends on a moment that many viewers will see coming, but which nonetheless packs more power than I had expected after the dissolute last half-hour of the picture. I am not sure precisely why this was the case, except that the concluding events suggest interesting notions about the intrusion of reality into the most fanciful political day-dreams...not to mention tipping its cap to the too-frequent fate of politicians in this country of alleged free speech when they actually do express revolutionary or strikingly new ideas. Still, little of what Bulworth proclaims is as striking as it thinks, and the movie too rarely ignores the difference between a candidate who refreshingly speaks his mind and a candidate whose "straight-talking" speeches actually reveal a gross and uninspiring series of stereotypes, as when he tells a church full of Black citizens (and here I paraphrase, but not very loosely) that they need to "put down the chicken wings and find new role models besides spouse-abusive athletes." A willingness to speak one's mind un-cowed by political urgencies for diplomacy is one thing; an announcement of prejudice and ignorance, however, is unintelligent, utterly reproachable, and satirically empty, no matter how startlingly "honest." Bulworth is vibrantly shot by legendary cinematographer and Beatty associate Vittorio Storaro, but the film is finally too full of bull to achieve the social or satirical worth that Beatty intends. C


Academy Award Nominations:
Best Original Screenplay: Warren Beatty and Jeremy Pikser

Golden Globe Nominations:
Best Picture (Musical/Comedy)
Best Actor (Musical/Comedy): Warren Beatty
Best Screenplay: Warren Beatty and Jeremy Pikser

Other Awards:
Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Best Screenplay

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