on May 15, 1998 by Wade Major
What begins as a promising, potentially brilliant political satire fast degenerates into yet another celebrity soapbox in "Bulworth," Warren Beatty's first foray into quadruple-threat territory (directing, writing, acting and producing) since 1980's "Reds."
Beatty stars as Democratic Senator Jay Bulworth, an otherwise unremarkable politician who, on the eve of the 1996 election, comes apart at the psychological seams, suddenly dispensing with the old familiar tactics and formalities to baldly lay out the uncomfortable, back-door truth for all the world to hear. As his chief of staff (Oliver Platt) panics, Bulworth experiences a spiritual rebirth courtesy of a beautiful young urbanite named Nina (Halle Berry) who introduces the senator to the liberating world of protest rap music, hereafter his medium of choice through which to express "revolutionary" ideas.
Sadly, it is at this point, just as the film starts to gain steam, that Beatty and co-writer Jeremy Pikser run their premise hopelessly aground. Rather than pursue Bulworth's natural trajectory into complete and total mental disintegration, they opt to transform him into a kind of left-wing, '90s variation of Mr. Smith. But, without a clearly defined narrative direction, Beatty seems stuck in "Shampoo" mode, relying on his character's earnest buffoonery to carry him through a series of public encounters that more or less say the same thing over and over and over.
To their credit, Beatty and Pikser seem acutely aware of the narrative pitfalls associated with overly dogmatic material, although they make the mistake of choosing the wrong remedy, a bizarre hired-assassin/suicide thread that does little but fill the void between the public encounters. None of which is to suggest that "Bulworth" isn't fascinating in its own way. That a nostalgic affection for traditional New Deal liberalism, such as Beatty embraces, should be construed as "revolutionary" in today's political climate is a significant observation, even if Beatty and Pikser opt not to explore the reasons for such an ideological shift. Nor should it be construed that the film is completely without its merits as satire. Boasting some of the year's cheekier comedic moments thus far, "Bulworth" is smart enough in fits and starts to at least partially redeem its many missteps.
Behind-th e-scenes contributions from the Oscar-winning crew of technicians, meanwhile, are uniformly outstanding, toplined by typically magnificent photography from three-time Academy Award winner Vittorio Storaro. Starring Warren Beatty, Halle Berry, Jack Warden, Oliver Platt, Paul Sorvino and Christine Baranski. Directed by Warren Beatty. Written by Warren Beatty and Jeremy Pikser. Produced by Warren Beatty and Pieter Jan Brugge. A Fox release. Comedy. Rated R for pervasive strong language and some drug content. Running time: 110 min.
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