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Film review: Bulworth

And ending will likely offend target audience

Published: Friday, May 22 1998 12:01 a.m. MDT

From watching all the television commercials and theatrical trailers, you'd probably guess Warren Beatty's new comedy, "Bulworth," is at least as crude as it is funny. And you'd be right.

In fact, this is one of the very few cases when TV ads actually capture the essence of the film they're promoting. Unfortunately, they also contain almost everything you need to see.

Given the shallow and/or heavy-handed political satires Hollywood's been churning out, you can sort of appreciate what Beatty has tried to do here — make a comedy that combines scathing political humor with a smarter brand of urban drama.

That doesn't make this uneven and extremely vulgar film any easier for the audience to swallow, however.

And frankly, the ending, which uneasily equates the efforts of the title character — a white politician — with those of black civil-rights leaders is so outrageous that its target audience will likely be offended.

In addition to producing, co-writing and directing the film, Beatty also stars as Sen. Jay Bulworth, a Democratic incumbent running for re-election.

Suffering from depression, Bulworth hires a hit man to kill him during the final campaign weekend.

Suddenly freed from responsibility, the senator begins speaking truthfully about issues — much to the consternation of his long-suffering political aides (Oliver Platt, Jack Warden and Joshua Malina) and the lobbyists supporting his re-election bid (including Paul Sorvino). But he also meets a beautiful black activist, Nina (Halle Berry), who gives him a reason to live.

The action gets a lot more frantic as Bulworth tries to call off the hit and as his "no-nonsense" style starts to save his floundering campaign.

As a filmmaker, Beatty has really bitten off more than he can chew. There's simply too much ground to cover, even in its more than two-hour running time.

Things bog down when he tries to address social inequity seriously during the second half, and the movie never quite recovers. There are also a series of character "twists" that are as unsurprising as they are unconvincing.

Beatty's acting is restrained in comparison to his frenetic directing style — but his performances of Bulworth's white-boy raps are excruciating. And he and Berry don't have enough chemistry to make their romance work.

Besides, they — and the rest of the cast — have to take a back seat to Platt, who is howlingly funny as Bulworth's high-strung assistant.

"Bulworth" is rated R for profanity, vulgar jokes and lewd dancing, drug use, violent gunplay, brief gore, use of racial epithets and glimpses of some nude artwork.