[Screen It]


(1998) (Warren Beatty, Halle Berry) (R)

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Comedy: Fueled by a lack of sleep and food, and the fact that he's hired a hitman to kill himself, an incumbent U.S. Senator begins unabashedly telling the truth about the world of politics and his own personal beliefs without worrying that he might be offending anyone.
It's March 1996 and the last weekend of the democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat from California. Incumbent Sen. Jay Bulworth (WARREN BEATTY), suffering from a lack of sleep and food, but more importantly, a belief in himself and his campaign, suddenly takes a drastic measure. Getting his old friend, Davers (JACK WARDEN) to contact Vinnie (RICHARD SARAFIAN), a professional hitman, Bulworth increases his policy with life insurance lobbyist Crockett (PAUL SORVINO) and then puts out a contract with Vinnie on himself, a job he identifies as his "weekend research project."

Off kilter from that lack of rest and nourishment, and now no longer concerned with having to pander to special interest groups, Bulworth suddenly begins openly speaking his mind without fear of whom he might offend. Catching everyone by surprise, especially Murphy (OLIVER PLATT), his chief of staff, and Feldman (JOSHUA MALINA), his younger assistant, Bulworth suddenly becomes a loose cannon.

Openly honest and ready to party, Bulworth heads off to a nightclub where he spots Nina (HALLE BERRY), a young, inner city African American woman who seems to be following him. Since his more than two-decade old marriage to Constance (CHRISTINE BARANSKI) is just a front, Bulworth begins pursuing Nina, much to his staff's chagrin. Suddenly beaming with life, Bulworth tries to call off the hit, but Vinnie, who's hired someone else to do the job, doesn't get the chance before falling into a coma.

Needing a place to hide, Nina takes Bulworth to her run down neighborhood where he begins to reconnect with the minority population. Along the way he meets L.D. (DON CHEADLE), a local drug lord who uses kids to front his operation, as well as Nina's family, all of whom open his eyes to what's really happening in the inner city. As the election day nears, one never knows what Bulworth will do next or whether the assassin tracking him will complete the job.

Other than for the presence of Halle Berry, it's doubtful anyone else in the cast, or the story itself, will draw in many kids (especially with "Godzilla" opening the same week).
For pervasive strong language and some drug content.
  • WARREN BEATTY plays a U.S. Senator who, despondent about the lie he's living, takes out a "hit" on himself and then begins speaking his mind without fear of whom he might offend. Adopting a "rapper's" attitude and garb, he begins delivering his speeches and answers questions in rap-induced rhyme (and curses like a sailor -- so to speak -- while doing so).
  • HALLE BERRY plays an inner city woman who takes a special interest in Bulworth for both romantic and financial reasons.
  • OLIVER PLATT plays Bulworth's chief of staff who's slowly driven crazy by his boss' errant behavior. As the story progresses he first starts smoking, and then begins snorting cocaine.
  • DON CHEADLE plays a gun-toting drug lord who uses kids to front his drug selling operation. After meeting and hearing Bulworth's speech, however, he seems intent on changing his ways.


    OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
    About as politically incorrect as one would imagine a mainstream film in today's society could be, or would dare to be, Warren Beatty's "Bulworth" is not only outrageously insensitive, but it's also quite funny. Featuring witty and extremely "blackened" satirical jabs at a wide variety of issues such as politics, racial relations, ethnicity and plenty of other topics sure to offend those who take life a bit too seriously, this film will certainly draw its share of rants and raves from all walks of life.

    To get a feel of where this sociopolitical comedy is coming from, one should first imagine a combination of the films "Primary Colors" and "Liar, Liar." In one, a politician's errant and often scandalous behavior drives his handlers crazy and threatens his candidacy, while the other features a man who suddenly can't tell a lie. Picture then a politician who suddenly begins to speak his mind unabashedly and you've got the potential for some seriously funny barbs at the world of politics.

    Beatty ("Heaven Can Wait," "Reds") as co-writer, director, and title performer, however, doesn't just go for the easy laughs at the expense of expected targets. Instead, he takes his seemingly deranged democratic Senator character to a completely different, and deeper, level. Disillusioned and suicidal over his political career and his preposterous campaign ads (that repeatedly state, "We stand on the doorstep of the new millennium") and affected by a lack of rest and nourishment, Bulworth suddenly pops a gasket and completely (and near inexplicably) changes his behavior.

    Yet, where Fletcher Reid -- Jim Carrey's character in "Liar, Liar" -- was appalled at his sudden honesty, Beatty's Bulworth revels in his. Able to openly speak his mind for the first time in his career, the character not only spills the beans about his own beliefs and the reality of the political machine, but also skewers media moguls, the insurance industry, and pretty much anyone else deemed self-important. Along the way, he suddenly becomes a party hound, chases after a young inner city woman, but generally unnerves his staff with his no holds barred speeches.

    Addressing the congregation of an inner-city, African American church, Bulworth responds to a woman's question about why he hasn't helped them. First stating that it's because she and the others haven't contributed any money to his campaign, he then adds that if they (the African Americans) don't cut down on the chicken wings, malt liquor, and supporting running backs who kill their wives, they'll never get rid of someone like him. Later, the loose cannon belittles a predominantly Jewish Hollywood gathering, and in a self-referential jab at his own industry, Beatty has his character slam movie makers for continually putting out such a bad product.

    Obviously, one's appreciation of that "humor" -- like beauty -- lies in the eye (and funny bone) of the beholder, but there are other funny moments that aren't as offensive. Although he hired the hit on himself, Bulworth always panics whenever he hears any loud sound -- a motorcycle backfiring, for instance -- and immediately heads for the hills or ducks for cover. At other moments, Beatty's Hollywood handsomeness -- still apparent through his character's constantly disheveled appearance -- gets him mistaken for Clint Eastwood and then George Hamilton (who has a brief cameo to add another zinger to the moment).

    Even so, as director and writer and working with co-writer Jeremy Pisker ("The Lemon Sisters"), Beatty occasionally goes a bit too far with the comic material. While Bulworth's newfound talent of rapping is initially funny, the fact that his character continually does so makes that "act" somewhat laborious and begins to push the film into the realm of surrealism. Likewise, brief and spontaneous speeches by several characters don't exactly fit with their overall behavior (such as Halle Berry's Nina suddenly spouting off about the relationship between politics and historical events on black social movements as if she were a college professor).

    As the title character, Beatty creates an amusingly complex political persona. Playing off the befuddled characters he's occasionally inhabited over the years, Beatty is completely believable as a man on the fast track to lunacy. Along the way, he appears to being having a blast playing such a character and seems to revel in the chance of not being his usual glamour boy self. Instead, he's usually disheveled -- and in one quite funny scene, dons the garb of a "rapper" (that has to be seen to be fully appreciated).

    Beatty gets a mixed bag of results regarding his supporting characters, but for the most part they're quite good. The only disappointment has to be Halle Berry ("The Rich Man's Wife"), who isn't given much to do other than alternate between being seductive and coy (when not delivering the above mentioned, out of character speech). Much more effective is Oliver Platt ("A Time To Kill") as Bulworth's chief of staff. Watching his boss' and his own political careers going down the tubes (or so he thinks for most of the movie), Murphy slowly begins to lose his mind just like the Senator seemingly has, and it's fun watching this "painful," but humorous transformation.

    Although it would have been nice had Beatty stuck with the political and social jabs instead of occasionally dipping into slapstick material (running from hitmen, etc...), that would have been a tough act to sustain for an entire movie. Besides, such moments do give the film some humorous diversity (including a very funny scene where Bulworth finds himself in one of those low-rider cars that bounce up and down on the street).

    Additionally, I personally could have done without the repetitious rapping that not only gets old after a while, but also (and probably intentionally) shows that Beatty, as an older white man, doesn't have the rhythm to carry off the act. Even so, the film has quite a bit of bite to it, especially when leveling the political playing field, and it should be required viewing for anyone interested in becoming a politician, or for those just interested in the often zany world of politics. We give "Bulworth" a 7 out of 10.

    This film, with its unabashed and often insensitive jabs at politics, race, and many other issues, obviously isn't for those easily offended by such "humor," although it is completely done in a satirical, and not outwardly -- and certainly not intentionally -- bigoted fashion. That aside, profanity is extreme with nearly 100 "f" words and an assortment of others. Bulworth smokes a joint in one scene, and his chief of staff becomes addicted to snorting cocaine.

    Several kids carry guns (as drug runners), and one person is shot (and presumably killed) although the scene isn't gory. Finally, a few sexual comments and references are also made. Although it's doubtful many kids will want to see this film, we strongly suggest that you read through the categories should you be concerned with whether this film is appropriate for you or anyone else in your home.

  • Bulworth downs two mini-bottles of liquor during an airplane flight.
  • People drink wine or champagne at a Hollywood reception.
  • We see Warden screwing a top back onto a flask (implying that he just took a swig from it).
  • A man smokes a marijuana joint in a nightclub and then gives it to Bulworth who finishes smoking it.
  • Murphy watches a man snort cocaine at a club, and then rubs some on his own gums.
  • Vinnie drinks a beer.
  • Bulworth drinks from a flask, and then does so again during a televised debate.
  • Murphy snorts cocaine while Feldman watches and apparently wants to do the same (Murphy is later quite hyper from the drug).
  • Some young kids approach Bulworth (dressed like a "rapper") and ask if he's buying (drugs). We later learn that these kids are the sellers for L.D..
  • Bulworth's wife drinks.
  • A man who's been shot has a small, bloody bullet hole in his back.
  • Granted, this is a black comedy (not in skin color, but tone), but Bulworth's remarks may offend some viewers.
  • Bulworth tells an African American woman (who just asked what he's going to do for the black kids) that half her kids are out of work and the other half are in jail. He then says, "You aren't going to vote Republican. C'mon, let's call a spade a spade." He then comments that if they (African Americans) don't cut down on the malt liquor, chicken wings and supporting running backs who kill their wives, they'll never get rid of someone like him.
  • At a Hollywood reception (filled with mostly Jewish people), Bulworth says, "My guys aren't stupid. They always put the big Jews on my schedule." He then adds that he'll make sure that Murphy puts something bad about Farrakhan in there for them.
  • A would-be assassin pours something into Bulworth's champagne and then loosens the bolts on the balcony railing of his hotel room to facilitate his demise.
  • Some may see Nina's friends doing a "soulful" rendition of the hymn, "Ode to Joy," in a reserved and predominantly white church as having a little of both.
  • Nina works for Vinnie and has agreed to help kill Bulworth for $10,000 and then has to do the job herself.
  • L.D. uses kids to sell his drugs because they're underage and can't get into too much trouble if caught.
  • A white cop calls some young black kids (who are drug sellers) "spooks" and they bad mouth him in return. The cop then gets out and pushes one of the kid's ice cream cones into his face and Bulworth then does the same to the cop.
  • Bulworth takes L.D.'s car without his permission.
  • We see Bulworth's wife in bed with another man, but other than some kissing, nothing else happens (although it's implied they're having an affair). Likewise, Bulworth falls for Nina and kisses her.
  • An unseen person shoots another person (who presumably dies from the wound).
  • Since this is a comedy, the following (other than the last entry) don't have as much impact as if they were presented in a non-humorous fashion.
  • Cops pull their guns on Bulworth (who's dressed like a "rapper") after he smashes an ice cream cone into a cop's face after the cop did the same to a drug selling kid.
  • Bulworth runs and gets cornered by a person he believes is going to assassinate him.
  • A man is shot and falls to the street.
  • Nina's friends dump what appear to be chains, a switchblade and perhaps a handgun at the security checkpoint of a nightclub.
  • Handguns: Carried by a kid who's a drug seller and pointed by cops at Bulworth whom they momentarily believe is a hoodlum.
  • Handgun: Carried by both L.D. and Nina in separate scenes.
  • A person is shot and presumably killed with an unseen gun.
  • Phrases: "Nigger" (said by black people), "Pissed," "Nuts" (crazy), "Punk ass," "Bitch" (said by a woman toward Murphy), "Punk," "Piss," "Bimbo," "Kiss my ass," "Pig f*cker," "Pissed off," "Hard ass," "Cracker," "Spooks" (for black people), "Faggot," "Shut up," "Scum bag," "Sucks," "Moron" and "You know you're my nigger."
  • Bulworth speaks his mind without any thought or concern that he might be offending others.
  • Murphy pulls a fire alarm in a church to stop Bulworth from digging himself into a deeper political hole.
  • Bulworth often talks with his mouth full of food.
  • None.
  • A few scenes have just a tiny bit of suspenseful music in them.
  • Several rap songs include extreme uses of the "f" word (often used with "mother"), the "s" word, a slang term for male genitals (the "d" word), along with "ass," the word "nigger" and the term, "Busting caps" (shooting people).
  • Bulworth rocks a rap album back and forth on the turntable and we hear the word "d*ck" many times.
  • At least 95 "f" words (45 used with "mother," 1 used sexually), 28 "s" words, 8 slang terms using male genitals (the "d" word -- probably used many more times -- and 3 uses of "c*cks*cker"), 5 slang terms for female genitals (the "p" word -- probably used many more times), 19 asses (1 used with "hole"), 7 hells, 5 damns, 3 S.O.B.'s, 3 craps, and 5 uses of "G- damn," 2 uses of "Jesus Christ," and 1 use each of "For Christ's sakes," "For God's sakes," "Oh my God" and "Swear to God" as exclamations.
  • As Bulworth flips through the channels on TV, we see a brief image of several women in thong bikinis and see most of their bare butts.
  • Nina's friends talk about Arsenio Hall's "Jimmy" (his penis) and the qualities of it.
  • We twice see a rather realistic-looking painting on a wall of a nude woman lying on the floor (we see her bare breasts).
  • Bulworth does a rap song where he comments on female genitalia (the "p" word) and says that he likes them all (and in Washington, you don't have to call (to get some)).
  • We see Bulworth's wife in bed with another man, but other than some kissing, nothing else happens (although it's implied they're having an affair).
  • Murphy smokes several times.
  • Many other minor characters also smoke a few times.
  • Bulworth and his wife barely get along and rarely see each other (and she's having an affair).
  • Politics in general and how much influence special interest groups have on the profession and the people involved with it.
  • Whether most, some, or few politicians speak the truth or at least do so based on their own convictions.
  • The pros and cons of being "politically correct."
  • Nina accidentally backs a car into another car while valet parking.
  • Bulworth drives a limo through a wooden crossing gate.
  • Bulworth wrestles with a cop who then pulls his gun on him after Bulworth has smeared ice cream on him (after the cop did the same to a kid).
  • A person is shot and presumably killed with an unseen gun.

  • Reviewed May 6, 1998

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