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Beatty as Sen. Bulworth

Worth the hype?

Review: 'Bulworth' politically incorrect, and hilarious

Web posted on: Thursday, May 14, 1998 6:54:18 PM EDT

From Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- Warren Beatty is famous for a number of reasons, but the top three are: (1) Hollywood stud, (2) filmmaker and (3) political activist. Now 61 and a happily married father of two, his stud days are in the past, but his interest in items number two and three are still going strong.

Beatty is the producer, writer, director and star of the new political comedy "Bulworth." The last time he tried that combination, in 1981, it was a little movie called "Reds" which won him an Academy Award for Best Director. This time with "Bulworth," he takes a satirical look at politics in the 1990s.

Love it or hate it, "Bulworth" is going to get people's attention and start a lot of passionate debate on the way home from the multiplex. This way, way, way over-the-top comedy is socially, economically and politically relevant. It's also brilliant filmmaking. "Bulworth" is not going to be everyone's cup of tea. But my cup runneth over.


View Paul Clinton's review of "Bulworth"

3Mb QuickTime movie

The setup

Comedy has always been a great way to sneak ideas into people's minds when they're too busy laughing to notice, and Beatty has a bushelful. He stars as Sen. Jay Bulworth, a man cut adrift from his social and political ideals by years of lobbying and compromising. He's caught in an empty, "photo-op" marriage (his wife is played coolly by Christine Baranski), and as the film begins he hasn't eaten or slept in several days.

Suddenly, during a campaign trip to his home state of California, on the weekend before an election, he has a mental meltdown that catches voters, and his own staff, completely off guard. He has also taken out a huge life insurance policy and arranged for his own murder by a hitman.

Since he's now a dead man walking, he starts saying what he really feels about race, politics and money. The movie trailer gives away some of the best scenes of him letting it all hang out, but there are more in store in the film.

When Bulworth dives off the deep end, he does it all in rhyming rap like a demented version of Snoop Doggy Dog. Along the way, he gains the respect of disenfranchised voters and regains his will to live. He also falls in love with a woman named Nina played by the too-beautiful-to-believe Halle Berry. She gives him, among other things, a 10-cent tour of South Central Los Angeles.


View the theatrical trailer of "Bulworth"

3.5Mb QuickTime movie

No politician is safe

"Bulworth" takes just one, very liberal, political point of view and shoves it down the audience's throat. Beatty is an unabashed liberal Democrat in the spirit of Bobby Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, and in "Bulworth" he uses comedy to blast both the Republican and Democratic Parties, the media, racial stereotypes and the political process in general.

This movie shouldn't work, and for many, I'm sure it won't. A 61-year-old white guy spouting hip-hop lyrics sounds horrifying on paper, but somehow Beatty pulls it off.

The music is also one of the major selling points of this film. Beatty has blended the classic scoring of Ennio Morricone with the rap and hip-hop of Dr. Dre, LL Cool J, and Ice Cube, among many other contemporary recording artists.

The compressed time frame of 48 hours, combined with these driving rhythms and Beatty's deft direction, keep this film humming.

The language is purposely offensive, and so are some of the stereotypes as the senator gleefully attacks blacks. "If you don't put down that malt liquor and chicken wings, and get behind somebody other than a running back who stabbed his wife, you're never going to get rid of someone like me." And Jews. "My guys are not stupid. They always put the big Jews on my schedule."

At first you're not sure whether to be offended, embarrassed or laugh out loud. But Beatty uses the stereotypes to make a point. Most of the people sitting around me were gasping for breath.


Beatty received encouragement

Beatty reportedly screened the film for African Americans in the South Bronx and for the NAACP and numerous other organizations. Word is he received encouragement from all sides. Some of my friends of color were less amused, even though they agreed that the film isn't actually racist or mean-spirited.

Beatty should be praised for even attempting this subject matter. If Spike Lee had made the same film it probably would have been labeled as "just another angry black man movie."

But what I loved about the film is there's no formula here. Whether you agree with his politics or not, Beatty engages his audience with plenty of provocative material. "Bulworth," in terms of comedy and social commentary, compares favorably with Preston Sturges' 1941 classic film "Sullivan's Travels."

There are also some great plot twists -- look out for the ending. Beatty also assembled a great bunch of supporting actors including Jack Warden, Don Cheadle and Oliver Platt. So belly up to the box office. This film is a heaping helping of a whole lot of food for thought.

"Bulworth" is rated R for language, sexuality, violence, and runs 107 minutes.

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