Bulworth posterBulworth (1998)

Starring Warren Beatty, Halle Berry, Oliver Platt, Don Cheadle, Paul Sorvino, Jack Warden.
Written by Warren Beatty and Jeremy Pikser.
Directed by Warren Beatty.

Grade: C

Review by Carlo Cavagna.

As with Wag the Dog, a Hollywood political satire released a few months before Bulworth, the premise behind Bulworth sounds much better in theory than it turns out to be in practice. Warren Beatty is Senator Jay Bulworth, a jaded political veteran from California that has reinvented himself as a New Democrat--a pro-business moderate who calls for welfare reform and begins every speech with the phrase, "As we approach the dawn of a new millennium...." Bulworth is in the midst of his re-election campaign and headed for a nervous breakdown. After obtaining a $10 million dollar life insurance policy as a bribe, Bulworth arranges his own assassination. When the assassination is delayed, Bulworth continues campaigning but quickly loses interest. He ignores his prepared speeches and tells the truth about politics in America. He gets drunk. He parties all night at an after-hours club in South Central. This experience proves to be some sort of epiphany, and as Bulworth immerses himself in South Central's hip-hop culture, his behavior grows more and more erratic. In the process, he attracts the attention of a young woman (Halle Berry) and rediscovers his will to live.

The premise seems original on the surface, but there's not much new underneath. At the beginning of Bulworth, we witness a political advertisement that characterizes the Senator as "old whine in a new bottle." The advertisement may as well have been talking about the movie itself. Bulworth video boxBulworth delivers the same platitudes about the evils of business and politics found in practically every other Hollywood satire on the subject. Newsflash: Money dominates politics! Politicians are corrupt! They don't really care about the poor and the needy! The poor turn to drugs and crime because they are disenfranchised! Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Warren Beatty's truths, Bulworth's broadsides aren't nearly as shocking as they're supposed to be.

Even if you're partial to political satires and don't mind a little Hollywood lecturing, you may find Warren Beatty's Beattyisms tiresome. The primary emotion he communicates as an actor is self-absorption. He continues to cast himself opposite twenty-something actresses even though he's now sixty years old. Watching Warren Beatty and Halle Berry developing a romantic attachment is vaguely sickening. Yes, the sight of Warren Beatty in hip hop clothing and rapping his speeches is humorous, but it is also somewhat painful. I can't help thinking that some other actor would have been funnier. Beatty does have one very good scene, however, when Bulworth visits an African-American church and deviates from his written speech for the first time.

Oliver Platt, who plays Bulworth's opportunistic campaign manager, is quite amusing as he tries to keep Bulworth under control. Unfortunately, he's the only bright spot among the rest of the cast. Paul Sorvino receives little screen time. Don Cheadle is a fine actor, but his character is another Hollywood stereotype (The Enlightened Criminal Who Just Needs to Be Given a Chance at Redemption) and is not believable. Halle Berry's role is particularly absurd. The whole movie is dragged down by her poorly conceived character and the utter lack of chemistry between her and Warren Beatty.

Review © April 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
© 1998 Fox and its related entities. All rights reserved.

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