June 22, 2015

Bulworth (1998)
Grade: 54/100

Director: Warren Beatty
Stars: Warren Beatty, Halle Berry, Oliver Platt

What it's about. This strange political comedy stars Warren Beatty as Bulworth, a troubled U.S. Senator from California. In the final days of his campaign for re-election, Bulworth loses all his money in commodity futures. Depressed, he stops eating and sleeping. His appearance becomes disheveled, and he pays a mobster to have a hitman murder Bulworth within the next week.

The staff is concerned. Elderly and gruff Jack Warden is at least cares about Bulworth's health. Oliver Platt, his public relations point man, is more concerned about how Bulworth's increasingly eccentric behavior will affect Platt's own career.

When Bulworth hits rock bottom, he encounters a series of blacks, most notably ravishing Halle Berry and drug kingpin Don Cheadle. Berry flirts with Bulworth outrageously, and soon Bulworth is trying to avoid getting shot by the hitman he knows is out there, since Bulworth wants to score with Berry first.

Meanwhile, Bulworth continues to make television appearances, where he eschews conservative dress for hip-hop attire and begins to rap his campaign speeches. Suddenly, he takes on left-wing populist positions that aggravate his corporate backers, especially insurance executive Paul Sorvino.

How others will see it. The Beatty-goes-black comedy went over fairly well with both critics and the general public. It was nominated for Best Comedy by the Golden Globes, who also nominated Beatty for Best Actor and Best Screenplay. The Oscars further nominated the screenplay, which Beatty wrote with Jeremy Pikser. Still, the biggest beneficiaries of the movie were Berry and Cheadle, who have since accumulated many career honors.

Today at imdb.com, though, Bulworth has a middling 20K user votes and a less-than-remarkable user rating of 6.8 out of 10. The demographics lean young and male. Men under 30 grade it 7.2, while women over 45 grade it 6.6. The latter are presumably dubious of Bulworth's public success as a truth-telling white rapper, and may disapprove of Berry's attempts to either murder, seduce, or possess the much older Bulworth.

How I felt about it. Bulworth marks the end of an era, as the last consequential movie of Warren Beatty's career, which began as Shirley MacLaine's real-life sister and as Milton Armitage on the "Dobie Gillis" television series. In between, Beatty was as famous for his reputed ego and romantic conquests as he was for his movies, many of which were pretty good. We still like Splendor in the Grass and The Parallax View the best, although several other movies are also interesting.

Bulworth/Beatty is unconvincing as a rapper-politician, but he is amusing, and that is more relevant here. Berry is as hot as ever, and Oliver Platt is a riot, especially during the scene where he snorts coke while crassly disparaging his employer.

Still, the movie is never remotely believable. Bulworth would be ridiculed and rejected by the general public, similar to the reaction to Presidential candidate Howard Dean's primal scream at a campaign rally, which seems tame by comparison.

The black community's rapid embrace of Bulworth is more plausible, since he is a Senator and thus is in a position to benefit them. Still, why would Cheadle announce to Bulworth that he is a drug gangster endangering children. Why wouldn't blacks laugh, or at least mistrust, the eccentric Bulworth, who has a long track record of ignoring the black community?

In summary, we have a movie that is alternatively amusing (the staid white church is aghast when two black women provide soul to the hymns) and bogus. But there is enough to the former to make the film worthwhile.