Breakfast of Champions (1999)

Breakfast of Champions starring Bruce WillisStarring Bruce Willis, Nick Nolte, Glenne Headley, Albert Finney, Omar Epps, Barbara Hershey, Lukas Haas, Vicki Lewis, Jake Johannsen.
Written by Alan Rudolph based on the novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Directed by Alan Rudolph.

Grade:  F

Review by Dana Knowles.

There is only one word for Breakfast of Champions: Excruciating. Okay... maybe two words: Relentlessly Excruciating. Actually, you can add pretty much any severely negative adverb-as-adjective to the adjective "'excruciating," and you'd still be right. Dreadfully. Horrifically. Unwatchably. Painfully. Unbearably. Torturously. In any case, I think you get the picture. If you're smart, do not see this picture.

Bruce Willis stars as small town local television "star" Dwayne Hoover, who is only a star because he stars in the TV ads for his auto dealership... which, in this particular town, is more than enough to make him a superstar. That's about as insightful and scathing as this movie gets. Are you laughing with derisive superiority yet? No? Well, too bad for you. Because this joke/insight/commentary gets run so far into the ground that I expected to be in China by the end of the movie. Dwayne is going through some sort of existential crisis. What sort? Who knows! But he must be... because he keeps putting a gun in his mouth. And he sweats a lot and looks distressed a lot. And his employees think he's been acting strangely, though what constitutes "strange" in this crowd of annoying freaks defies imagination. Albert Finney as Kilgore Trout

This movie is nothing but a freak show--a grating, unfunny, boring, empty-headed cartoon that never ceases to make you yearn to run away. Ironic, as it seems that running away is a theme of the film, which ought to have been shown to its own characters as a catalyst... which would have made them flee, ending the movie, and putting the rest of us out of our collective misery. The CIA ought to purchase the rights to this film so as to employ it as an instrument of torture. Those pesky third-world countries would toe the line lickety-split if subjected to this monstrosity two or three times. Hell... I'd rat out my own mother to make it stop.

A talented cast is on display, but none of them should allow this to remain on their published filmographies.  Except for Vicki Lewis, whose few brief appearances are almost (and I emphasize the word "almost") amusing. It's difficult to blame any of them. Their performances are all on the same nails-on-a-chalkboard wavelength, so the ultimate culprit can only be the director, Alan Rudolph. Obviously, he got what he wanted out of them. But I can't help wonder who else on earth Rudolph imagined would "want" these performances. Or this story, which feels toothless and dated as social commentary and utterly confused when it strains for philosophical pedantry. Sense can be made of it, perhaps... but my boredom was so intense that I had no desire to make the effort to piece the threads together. Nick Nolte

What's it about? It's about a bunch of people who are unhappy and desperate and pathetic and phony and crazy. That's it. Nothing really happens. Dwayne squirms and sweats and stares blankly at the people and things around him. He occasionally hallucinates. And at one point he becomes obsessed with the name Kilgore Trout. Kilgore Trout (Finney) is an undiscovered author of fiction who lives in a hovel and chats with animals. He's been "discovered," finally, and is invited to be honored by the local arts festival back in Hootersville, or whatever the hell the town is called. Wacky! Harry LeSabre (Nolte) is the sales manager at Dwayne's dealership. Harry harbors a terrible secret... he loves to wear women's clothing. For our amusement, Nolte gets to strut around in spike heels and red lingerie while barking out his dialogue in that patented Nolte growl. Ain't that a laugh riot? Dwayne's wife, Celia (Barbara Hershey), is clearly unhinged. Her demeanor teeters between what appears to be a drug-addled state and what appears to be a contemplative state, both of which she conveys with a lot of zen-like gazes and haltingly delivered dialogue. She spouts advertising slogans as if they're words of wisdom, which I presume is meant to induce gasps of horrified cultural recognition and condescending head-shaking. The poor woman has been eaten by television! Her son Bunny (Lukas Haas) is a fey punk whose dream is to become a superstar lounge singer. Can you believe that?! I mean... it's not like lounge singing is art, so clearly he's been warped by the crazy and vapid culture he's grown up in! Kinda chills you to the bone, doesn't it?

The above stuff happens and keeps happening for what seems like an eternity. Then Kilgore Trout arrives in town, and we realize that he's now a star too... because the local television pimping of the arts festival has mentioned him and made him famous to the townsfolk. Suddenly, everybody knows him and reveres him. Ironic! The good news is, now that he's here to intersect with Dwayne, the movie can end soon. Dwayne is exposed to the text of one of Kilgore's books (about a guy who is the only human who has free will... God's chosen one, who must navigate the hell of coexisting with the pre-programmed humans around him as some sort of existential test), and adopts its concept as the "truth" about his own existence. Which leads him to a bout of destruction. Which leads Kilgore to stop him by telling him that "Until you're dead, everything else is life." Somehow, this wisdom salves his rage and solves his crisis. Which is either a really profound thing, or another devilishly clever, ironic absurdity. I don't know. And I don't care. I just want to forget the whole damned thing and move on with my life and someday have this abomination wiped from my memory. Pray for me, will you?

Easily the worst film of 1999. Or any other year.

Review © September 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
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