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Bulworth

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Bulworth

Starring: Warren Beatty, Halle Berry
Director: Warren Beatty
Rated: R
RunTime: 107 Minutes
Release Date: May 1998
Genre: Comedy




Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Politicians have about as much public trust as used car salesmen. They lie, cheat, steal and speak in platitudes. They commit adultery, but that's not so bad. What's worse is that they get into bed with wealthy corporations, yet wind up screwing the poor and the middle class. If you don't believe that, you probably also had faith in the guy who said, "Read my lips: no new taxes." What would happen, though, if a public official actually told the truth about everything? Would he last more than a month in office? According to the movie "Bulworth," the answer to the last question is, "Yes and no." This sharp, sometimes intelligent and always stimulating picture, produced, directed, co-written and starring Warren Beatty, deals with what happens when a high public official--like Jim Carrey's character Fletcher Reed--simply cannot lie. No way is he like that hair-care manufacturer who contended some time ago that "If you have only one life, live it as a blonde." Among the points hammered home in "Bulworth" is the notion that black people have more fun. "Bulworth" is about a politician who doesn't just talk a good game: he really gives a rap.

If campaign rhetoric has ever tempted you to reach for Prozac, you'll understand what the title character is going through during his bid for re-election as U.S. senator from California. Depressed to the point of suicide after repeating the bromide, "We stand at the doorstep of a new millennium" for the thousandth time, Senator Jay Bulworth (Warren Beatty) cuts a deal with two shady characters. Agreeing to bottle in committee a bill which would force insurance companies to issue policies to ghetto residents, he pressures lobbyist Crockett (Paul Sorvino) into writing him a ten million dollar life insurance policy to provide for his family upon his demise. He then contracts with hit man Vinnie (Richard Scott Sarafian) to target himself, in effect committing suicide with the appearance of murder. When he meets and becomes smitten with a young black woman, Nina (Halle Berry), his depression lifts. Having stood at the doorstep of his own extinction, he shucks off his old, corrupt self and determines to tell it like it is. After this point, "Bulworth" divides into two stories: one, the senator's caustic and brutally honest discourses about the nature of American society; the other, a madcap series of adventures planting the politician deep into the world of a black urban ghetto. The first concept succeeds so well that you wish Beatty could sustain its tone throughout the story. The second, likely to appeal to the younger set in the audience, veers unfortunately into the well-worn categories of car chases, farcical assassination plots, and excess. If the movie could have sustained the comic, insightful repartee which made its trailer the most enticing advertisement of the year, "Bulworth" could have been a modern masterwork of political debunking.

With this in mind, you may agree that the scenes that work best are those which display Bulworth engaging his voters with politically incorrect thought. Meeting constituents in a black church packed with supporters of his party, Bulworth is confronted by an angry woman who suggests that the Democratic Party doesn't care about the African-American community. Rather than soothe the voter, he retorts, "Isn't that obvious?" He suggests that the voters are stuck with him for the next six years anyway since they're not about to vote Republican; that they will never get anywhere if their chief interests are eating chicken wings, drinking malt liquor, and supporting a former running back who stabbed his wife. Pressed to explain what happened to the development funds that the senator promised to funnel to the community, Bulworth responds truthfully enough that he forgot about the promise, "But then you haven't contributed to my campaign, have you?" In yet another repudiation of political correctness, he meets a group of Hollywood filmmakers and, in a master-stroke of self-denigrating humor about the movie industry tells them, "Most of your films are not very good. You must be doing it for the money. You turn everything to crap." He also reports to the aghast, mostly Jewish congregation that "my guys aren't stupid: they always put the big Jews on the committees."

The movie is not as successful when it abandons verbal wit and turns to madcap burlesque. Vittorio Stararo's camera frequently turns to an assassin in dark shades, a caricature who simply appears from time to time on the orders of his silly mob boss, Vinnie. Beatty provides us as well with a stereotypical bunch of teens toting guns in their decaying neighborhood, gang members who are more like the giddy dead-end kids of Lyle Kessler's "Orphans" than like the scary youth of the Hughes brothers' "Dead Presidents." Even here, however, Beatty provides us with a three-dimensional role by Don Cheadle as L.D., a drug lord who employs kids because they can carry out his demands without the legal accountability of adults (just like politicians, who play fast with other people's money). When Halle Berry in the role of Bulworth's inspiring new girl friend, is not simply displayed with a cryptic expression on her captivating face, she has a believable sexual chemistry with a man who is of a different race and old enough to be her grandfather. As Murphy, the senator's chief of staff, Oliver Platt makes up for his miscasting as Maffio in Marshall Hershkovitz's "Dangerous Beauty," in an engaging turn as the senator's foil who finds his boss's new lifestyle contagious. Also surprisingly effective in a smaller role is black militant playwright Amiri Baraka in the part of a homeless man who stands for the conscience of America, calling ultimately for a new spirit to embrace the land.

The movie has a pulsating rap score , including a smart rendition by Beatty of an extended lyric which satirizes the right-wing strain in American politics. Beatty looks so good that when Halle Berry estimated the man's age as 60, members of the audience gasped at the absurdity. Yet this gifted performer, born in March 1937, is evidence that a keen mind focused on a productive career can indeed keep a seasoned person looking fresh.

Copyright 1998 Harvey Karten

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