Hollywood hates taking risks. The studios like remaking old
movies with proven storylines, and if one studio gets a new idea, like
killer volcanoes or attacking comets, then other studios want to ride
on their coattails by making a similar movie but with different stars.
You can accuse Warren Beatty, star, director, co-writer and
co-producer of BULWORTH of many shortcomings, but willingness to take
risks isn't one of them. (Scheduling the movie to open the same week
as the world's most hyped big lizard is certainly the biggest financial
risk.) His political version of LIAR LIAR uses a comedic setting to
say all of those things you're not supposed to say, even in the movies.
Full of racial insults and humor, the movie is astonishingly frank,
funny, outrageous and obnoxious. And sometimes all in the same line of
It's the 1996 primary season, and the presidential candidates from
the major parties are singularly uninspiring. In this mundane campaign
season, Democratic Senator Jay Billington Bulworth (Beatty) is in the
heat of another battle to be his party's nominee again for senator from
the great state of California.
As the story opens, the senator listens to a tape of his new
thirty-second ads and weeps. (One of the reporters describes his new
campaign strategy as "an old liberal trying to pour himself into a new
conservative bottle.") The senator hasn't eaten or slept in days.
Beatty, in one of the better performances of his career, looks
completed wasted. His face is white and puffy and his eyes look
exhausted. If ever a man looked like his brain had just snapped, it is
After arranging for free, multi-million dollar insurance policies
for his children from one of the insurance companies that has been
bankrolling him, he contracts to have himself assassinated when his
plane lands in LA. He no longer believes in his own platform, so he
wants to end it all.
The film jumps from tragedy to satire when he isn't murdered on
schedule. Although trailed everywhere by a hit man in dark glasses, he
keeps getting an unasked for extension of his life. The ultimate lame
duck, he begins to tell the truth to everyone. Scrapping his prepared
speeches, he rails against the entertainment industry's poor products,
the Jewish financial influence and his own big money backers.
When he goes to a black church, they ask him why their community
was never rebuilt after the riots. His simple answer is that all the
politicians did was promise to help, which got the politicians good
media coverage. After that, they ignored the ghetto since they knew
the rest of the country would forget the promises. Besides he points
out, they are too poor to contribute to his campaign so he doesn't care
what they want. Finally, he points out that they have to put up with
whatever the Democrats decide to give them. "What are you going to do,
join the Republicans?" he asks rhetorically. "You're stuck with us,"
he concludes, almost gleefully.
And if that isn't enough, Senator Bulworth really flips out. The
movie almost turns into a musical as the senator begins to sing most of
his lines with a rap rhythm. Along the way he picks up some poor,
young black women, including a cute young one named Nina (Halle Berry),
whom he wants to make his new friend and lover.
During this infamous day, CSPAN is covering him for one of those
"day in the life of" series. The people in the CSPAN control van are
nonplussed at his performance. "Would he be eligible for an Emmy or a
Peabody?" one of them muses.
Oliver Platt, from DANGEROUS BEAUTY, is great as Murphy, the
senator's beleaguered chief of staff. Ready to meet any challenge with
a spin or an appropriate quick reaction - he hits the fire alarm in the
black church when the senator goes off the deep end - he eventually
snaps like his boss. Snorting too much coke, he decides to try to turn
the senator's absurd behavior into an asset. Remember this is politics
and the best spinmeisters can make any disgusting trait seem at least
forgivable and perhaps even laudable.
As much as you may want to admire a film this daring and
incredibly funny, the ragged script contains whole sections that go
nowhere. A typical one of these has Nina delivering a political
dialectic that sounds like a paragraph out of a graduate political
science textbook on Marxist economic theory. These parts grind the
comedy to a halt.
The senator, looking like he's tripping on LSD, has a simple,
radical solution for the country. Everyone should immediately starting
having sex with everyone else until we are all the same color. That he
decides is the solution to the country's racial and political
BULWORTH runs 1:47. It is rated R for drug usage, profanity, and
a little violence and would be fine for older teenagers.
Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes