THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO - FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS
THE HORSE WHISPERER - GODZILLA (1998) - THE NORTH END
BULLWORTH


THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO

It's the dawn of the 80's and the dusk of disco in the third of writer/director Whit Stillman's nightlife trilogy, "The Last Days of Disco." Chloe Sevigny ("Kids") is Alice a young, serious minded woman looking for love and a publishing career in New York City. She works as an assistant in a publishing firm with Charlotte (Kate Beckinsale, "Cold Comfort Farm"), her former college roommate who's critical of her every move, even though Charlotte herself does what she critiques Alice for. Their social life takes place in a nameless disco reminiscent of Studio 54 where they alternately partner with Jimmy (Mackenzie Astin), an ad man, Tom (Robert Sean Leonard), Des (Chris Eigeman), the club's back door bouncer and Josh (Matt Keeslar), an ADA.

Laura LAURA:
Whit Stillman first made his mark with the clever "Metropolitan" which he followed up with the slicker, but less even, "Barcelona." "The Last Days of Disco" is his most accomplished work to date, with a few strands linking it to his previous film.

The most accomplished aspect of "Disco" is it's clever screenplay, where almost every statement or action is counterbalanced later on. One can can count on the fact that when the hilariously self absorbed Charlotte makes a statement, she'll be the first one to do the opposite. When Alice berates comic books, the man of her dreams turns out to have a Scrooge McDuck collection (and Alice, following Charlotte's malignantly misguided advice, will tell him that she thinks McDuck is sexy!). It's to Stillman's credit that these young people can be deluded and witty at the same time and still come across as real people.

The acting is engaging, particularly Beckinsdale's horrific Charlotte - it's a creation one would expect from Parker Posey. Sevigny's more muted, but then again, so is Alice. The men are almost uniformly entertaining. Stillman regular Eigeman's Des becomes more and more frantic as he devolves into the coke scene. He's a cad who dumps women by telling them he's gay. Matt Keeslar delivers some of the most outrageous dialogue as Josh, who's constantly being harangued by Des as a 'Loony' due to a past breakdown. (Josh earnestly tells Alice that he wasn't really suicidal, he accidently cut his right hand, but shouldn't have sent his friends notes written with his left because his handwriting scared them - believe me, this plays funnier than it reads due to Keeslar's performance.)

Astin's Jimmy, the object of Alice's desire who Charlotte perversely seduces, is sweet and persistent - his job depends on his ability to get clients into the exclusive club. Jimmy's nemesis is Van, Burr Steers, who has the supercilious self importance of a disco gate-keeper down pat - the slightest nod admits one to the rarified club. Robert Sean Leonard has a lesser role as Tom, the McDuff fan whose harsh honesty almost breaks Alice's spirit. There are also cameos from Jaid Barrymore (Drew's mom) as Tiger Lady, one of the club's more outrageous denizens and Jennifer "Flashdance" Beals as one of Des' rejected lovers.

Tech credits are good, if not outstanding. The soundtrack features classics of the Disco era, nicely chosen and not the obvious.

"The Last Days of Disco" is a superior ensemble relationship film that also presents an era which embarrasses most who lived through it with affection.

B+

Robin ROBIN:
Independent writer/director/producer Whit Stillman ("Metropolitan," "Barcelona") takes an interesting look at the end of the disco era in his third outing, "The Last Days of Disco." Stillman, as in his other films, spouts his philosophies on life and the inability of his characters to perform functionally in anything smaller than a group of six.

The films starts off slowly with the concentration on the two main female characters Alice (Chloe Sevigny, "Kids") and Charlotte (Kate Beckinsdale, "Cold Comfort Farm"). Alice and Charlotte are about as polarized, personality-wise, as two people can be, with Alice reticent and introspective and Charlotte outspoken and careless of the feelings of others. The only tie keeping the two together as they try to make it in the publishing world on Manhattan is their college days as roommates. The two realize they need others to make their life complete and search for the American Dream in the disco clubs of New York City. It's at this point where things get more interesting as the two, in their flashiest duds, enter the disco scene and draw in the involvement of others in what will become the Group.

When the manager of an unnamed club, Des (Stillman regular Chris Eigeman), and his friends Josh (Matt Keeslar) and Jimmy (Mackenzie Astin), join Alice and Charlotte, the film takes on a fuller dynamic as it depicts the search for happiness in the world of the disco. Unfortunately for our young truthseekers, corruption, drugs and money-laundering are running rampant through the club business and their beloved disco is under investigation by the Feds, led, unknown to the others, by Josh.

Whit Stillman falls in the middle with this third effort. His freshman work, "Metropoltan," is a sparkling, witty diatribe on the debutante scene in the City. His "Barcelona" is more preachy and complaining. In "Last Days," he concerns himself and his characters with the end of an oddly clean-cut era where music and dancing have more import than the sex and drugs of the AIDS era that is just beginning to rear its ugly head in the film. The story takes place "one September in the early 80's."

Acting by the ensemble cast is fair with Chris Eigeman as Des being the most extroverted of the gang, while Matt Keeslar's Josh being the most fully developed character as the Assistant DA who, finally, gets to say the line of his dreams: "Book this clown." Female leads Sevigny and Beckinsdale are two dimensional at best. The reticent Alice you want to give a good shake for being so spineless. You want Charlotte to be anyplace other than the space you presently occupy. "Name" actors Jennifer Beals and Robert Sean Leonard lend little to the occasion.

I'm not a big fan of the music of the disco era, but there is a rhythm to the sound that makes your foot tap. The 29 disco classics used in the film will make fans of the music quite happy when the CD comes out.

"The Last Days of Disco" has a stiltedness to that keeps it just below the likable line. It does have its points. I give it a B-.


FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS

Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson's most famous work, published 27 years ago, finally comes to the big screen in director Terry Gilliam's vision of Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Johnny Depp stars as Raoul Duke, Thompson's (maybe) alter ego, with a plump Benicio Del Toro as his advisor/lawyer Dr. Gonzo. Duke is assigned to cover the Mint 400 off-road motorcycle race in Las Vegas and the pair decide this is the ideal time to arm themselves with an arsenal of drugs from mescaline to acid and head for the city of sin to seek the American Dream.

Robin ROBIN:
I read this first of Thompson's "Fear and Loathing"" series back in the early 70's and loved it. The outrageous drug abuse and life on the edge appealed greatly to the old hippie in me and the book has stuck with me ever since. Anticipation, to say the least, was high (pun intended) going in to see this cult classic story brought to the screen by a truly visionary director and starring one of the best actors of his generation. At first, it seemed as if we had a terrific film in the making. As Duke and Gonzo journey to Vegas in their cherry red land yacht, armed to the teeth with hallucinogens, there are brilliant, surreal moments as Duke, high on mescaline, acid and cocaine, has to check into his hotel. Grasping his trusty typewriter and hallucinating his brains out, he sees the carpet patterns growing up the walls and the clerk's (cameo by Kathleen Hellman) face distort like a fun house mirror. Soon after, during an intense acid trip, Duke enters a bar where all the patrons have turned into hideous lounge lizards (literally). (Hats off to F/X master Rob Bottin for bringing the demented illustrations by Ralph Steadman to life.)

The over the top indulgences by Duke and Gonzo are sustained for a while and are true to the book. As the film progresses, this outrageous abuse takes a back seat as Gilliam uses his vehicle to make his own interpretation of Raoul Duke's search for the American Dream in the one place where the dream is a, at best, a fleeting vision never met. The more they ingest their hoard of drugs, the more the viewers mind becomes numb to Duke's search for truth. At almost exactly two hours long, my head felt as addled as the stars'. Judicious cutting of about 20 minutes would not hurt the film.

Depp revels in his role as Raoul Duke. He spent months living with Thompson, learning the good doctors mannerisms and moods. He displays the fruits of his learning to perfection, from the stylized costumes, to the walk, the talk, the ever present cigarette holder and the mumbling speech of the overdosed Ph.D. attending such events as the National District Attorneys Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

Del Toro, gaining a DeNiro-like 40 pounds (remember "Raging Bull"), complements Depp nicely as Duke's "Samoan" attorney and spiritual/pharmaceutical advisor Dr. Gonzo.

Production design by Alex McDowell ("The Crow") is marvelous in recreating a Las Vegas that no longer exists, what with the family-oriented nature of the Strip these days.

The appeal to my 70's id works really well in "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," but there is not enough of the drug dementia and too much philosophizing by Gilliam. And, it's too long. I give it a disappointed C+.

Laura LAURA:
In director Terry Gilliam's ("12 Monkeys," Monty Python) "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro are Raoul Duke (Hunter S. Thompson's alter ego) and Dr. Gonzo, Duke's lawyer. These two make Cheech and Chong seem like Hope and Crosby in what amounts to one hilariously bad trip. For its first 15-20 minutes, I thought Gilliam had hit one out of the ballpark. Unfortunately, "Fear and Loathing" is uneven and at least twenty minutes too long.

Johnny Depp, who began his career as a teen idol in TV's "21 Jump Street," keeps on proving what a terrific actor he is. He almost *is* Hunter S. Thompson, with his bald pate, staccatto paranoid ramblings, noodle legged walk and cigarette holder clenched between his teeth. Depp has another true original to add to his catalog of unique performances which include Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands. Without Depp's outrageous performance, Gilliam would have had a disaster on his hands.

Benicio Del Toro ("The Usual Suspects"), who gained forty pounds for his role, doesn't fare as well as Depp. Dr. Gonzo doesn't cope with drugs and alcohol as well as Duke so spends much of the film puking or passing out. Del Toro does shine a couple of times though, when he must be tricked off a carousel bar and later, when he totally flips out within a crud filled bathtub.

The film features many cameos, but only an almost unrecognizable Tobey Maguire ("The Ice Storm") makes a real impression as a hippy hitchhiker who takes the wrong ride. The film also features Katherine Helmond, Mark Harmon, Penn Jillette, Cameron Diaz, Lyle Lovett, Flea, Gary Busey, Christina Ricci and the voice of Debbie Reynolds!

Tech credits are outstanding, particularly the trippy cinematography of Nicola Pecorini. The script by Gilliam, Alex Cox, Tony Grisoni and Tod Davies never makes its point, though, with Thompson's reminiscences of the 60's feeling tacked on from a different film. While Gilliam gets some great visuals, one scene in a bar populated by creatures by effects wizard Rob Bottin feels too much like a barful of people in creature costumes.

If you're either a Depp fan or enjoy drug humor, you may enjoy "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Otherwise you're in for a bad trip.

C


THE HORSE WHISPERER

Robert Redford directs himself for the first time as the title character in "The Horse Whisperer." The MacLean family may appear OK on the surface, but a terrible tragedy forces them to acknowledge the discord caused by Annie's (Kirsten Scott Thomas, "The English Patient") ambivalence towards her worthy husband Robert (Sam Neill, "Jurassic Park"). When their only child Grace is involved in a horrific horse riding accident which leaves her and her horse terribly injured, both physically and emotionally, Annie decides with uncanny certainty that making Pilgrim whole again will also give Grace peace. Even though Grace is dead set against the idea, Annie packs up both her and Pilgrim and drives from New York City to Montana, home of Tom Booker, a horse whisperer who isn't expecting her. Tom's won over by Annie's determination and Grace's plight and agrees to try and help. His spirituality and ability to commune with nature have an effect not only with Pilgrim, but with the mother and child and their broken family dynamic.

Laura LAURA:
Robert Redford's gone Clint Eastwood one further in taking a critically maligned book (Eastwood did "The Bridges of Madison County") and turning it into a classy motion picture. While Eastwood changed the tone of his material, Redford's taken more drastic steps, changing major aspects of the story and improving it. Tom and Annie's affair is never consummated and Tom doesn't die. The first change gives the film moral complexities and the second just makes more sense.

Redford opens his film with the accident and it's gripping filmmaking. Grace's joy at being at the country home with her Dad in a snow covered terrain where she's about to go riding with her best friend is palpable. As the accident nears, Redford's shots go in closer and closer, pulling the viewer in. These scenes are intercut with Annie beginning her day in a New York City apartment where she holds a high pressure job as a fashion magazine editor. She's established as a control freak who's used to orderring people around and getting her way. Her daily phone call to her husband is pleasant if perfunctory.

This world is shattered when Annie's friend's horse stumbles in the ice and slides down a slope with the rider caught in her stirrup. Grace attempts to pull the horse back by its reins when the four are caught by an oncoming truck. Annie's friend and her horse are killed, Grace loses her leg below the knee, Pilgrim is severely injured and traumatized and a family's world is shattered. Grace becomes depressed and non-communicative towards her take-charge mother, who has made the impractical decision to not have Pilgrim put down.

Redford opens his film up to magnificent widescreen when the two women and Pilgrim take to the road. Tom Booker runs a cattle ranch in Redford's beloved American west with his brother Frank (Chris Cooper, "Lone Star") and sister-in-law Diane (Dianne Wiest) and their three boys. Booker patiently works with Pilgrim, slowly gaining the horse's trust. In one wonderful sequence, when Annie's perpetual cell phone scares the horse into running away, Booker sits in a field all day until, finally, Pilgrim comes to him. Grace begins to flower as Booker involves her in the ranch life and his young nephew shows her genuine friendship and only mild curiousity about her artificial limb. Annie's brittleness begins to dissolve and she and Booker tentatively fall in love. Booker is not a man to act rashly, however, and when Robert appears on the scene late in the film, Booker surpresses his own desires and forces Annie to do some soul searching.

The role of Tom Booker is tailor made for Redford and he makes the most of it, never appearing saintly and continually surprising us. (Although Redford has made Booker and Annie's affair chaste, they have a slow dance that's one of the sexiest and most poignant scenes ever filmed between two 'lovers,' as Robert chats with the locals on the sidelines.)

Kristen Scott Thomas delivers a complex performance as Annie, confident in her own world, yet tentative outside of it. She can appear cold and emotional, hard-hearted and nuturing. Scarlett Johansson ("Manny and Lo") is simply wonderful as Grace. Her blossoming as she regains confidence is perfectly paced and her new-found relationship with her mother unfolds beautifully (she will break your heart when she finally unburdens her soul to Annie, asking how anyone will ever want her as she is now). The camera loves Johansson's face framed by a bouncy pageboy, accented with an upturned nose. Wiest is a natural as a rancher's wife concerned with the rash relationship developping between her brother-in-law and Annie. Cooper and Neill are solid.

Behind the camera credits are all top notch, from the adapted screenplay by Eric Roth and Richard LaGravenese (who, coincidentally, adapted "Bridges") to the glorious cinematography by Robert Richardson. The score by Thomas Newman is somber, yet majestic when warranted.

I've heard complaints that "The Horse Whisperer" is too long at 168 minutes, but I found it to be a compelling, adult film that transports you into another world.

A-


GODZILLA (1998)

Science-fiction event filmakers Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin ("StarGate," "Independence Day") have made the marketing hype of the last year a reality with Matthew Broderick starring as earnest scientist Dr. Nick Tatopolous and Jean Reno ("The Professional") as Philippe Roache, an enigmatic French insurance investigator. The two, along with TV cameraman Animal (Hank Azaria), wannabe reporter Audrey (Maria Pitillo) and the entire US Army, have to stop the gigantic visitor to the Big Apple in "Godzilla."

Robin ROBIN:
The tag line we have been inundated with these past months, Size Does Matter, is the entire philosophy behind "Godzilla." To achieve this claim, filmmakers Emmerich and Dean have taken Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" creatures as their template and upped the ante. If a 40 foot tall T-Rex is scary, then a 400-foot monster that is a cross between Rex, the creature from the "Alien" franchise, and the other mutants in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II" must be kick-ass. If two raptors stalking frightened children is good, then two hundred raptor-like baby Godzillas terrorizing the film's stars MUST be better. I'm here to tell you it's not.

The marketing blitz for "Godzilla" whetted the event-film hungry public enough to pull in $60 million dollars its opening weekend, but negative word of mouth and across-the-board mediocre reviews should, I hope, save the rest of you from wasting your money. A bloated 139 minute runtime of set action pieces have incompetent military men destroying more of New York than the fabled monster as the poor creature simply wants to feed her/his soon-to-hatch babies (Godzilla is asexual and is able reproduce all by her lonesome).

Of the acting in "Godzilla," only Jean Reno acquits himself well, delivering the little humor existent in the film with charm and wit as he riffs on American food and coffee. He doesn't save the film, but helps make it almost tolerable. Matthew Broderick, who has reportedly already signed up for two sequels (yes, they hit you over the head that there will be more Godzillas to come) goes through the motions. Supporting cast, including Azaria, Pitillo, Harry Shearer and Kevin Dunn are less than enticing.

Of course, the idea of an F/X laden monster film that cost $120-million should result in some really fine visuals and, here, "Godzilla" does not disappoint. The look of the film and its F/X are interesting to watch and, if a less stupid script were involved, might have been part of a pretty good flick. As it stands, the silliness of the screenplay brings us a story that is marginally less insulting than Emerrich and Dean's moronic "Independence Day." But, not by much.

My advice: get a copy of the Toho Pictures original, "Gojira" or the doctored American verion starring Raymond Burr, "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" make a mess of popcorn and sit back and have fun. You won't if you go see this latest rendition. I give "Godzilla" a C-.

Laura LAURA:
The event movie team who gave us "Independence Day" (director/co-writer/ executive producer Roland Emmerich, producer/co-writer Dean Devlin and executive producer Ute Emmerich) return with this year's predicted summer blockbuster, the highly hyped "Godzilla."

To give the film its due, the CGI Godzilla effects are truly top notch, featuring a 400 foot dino... um, make that lizard, running around Manhattan at top speed, destroying fishing fleets and faking out naval torpedos. We're treated to some great shots of the monster, particularly when he advances over Hank Azaria's ("The Birdcage") news videographer Animal, from Animal's point of view and when he chases a taxi cab which lures him onto the Brooklyn Bridge to become entangled in the suspension cables. After that, there's little to recommend this film, with the possible exception of some humor provided by the great French actor Jean Reno and an in joke skewering critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.

The cast is largely wasted, although lead Matthew Broderick gives things a game try. His love interest played by Maria Pitillo is annoying in both its writing and her execution.

The film is largely a rip-off of the Jurassic Park movies from the huge thuds that signal the monster's appearance to the overly long climax in Madison Square Garden where hundreds of Godzilla's eggs hatch to imitate the raptors in the kitchen scene of Spielberg's first dino flick. Size may rachet up the ante in the visual effects arena, but quantity of something we've seen before doesn't.

C-


THE NORTH END

Directed by one of its denizens, Frank Ciota, (along with his brother Joseph who wrote the screenplay), haS painted a loving portrait of "The North End." Freddie (Matthew Del Negro) is shooting a documentary on the North End. His roommate Matt (Mark Hartmann) is an investment banker who attended Harvard with him. A love triange blossoms when they're both captivated by Danielle (Lina Sovio), goddaughter of Dom Di Bella (Frank Vincent of Martin Scorsese's films), but Danielle makes the wrong choice, rebelling against the advice of her hotheaded brother Gio (Peter Marciano).

Laura LAURA:
The Ciotas made a wise choice having one of their main characters be a video documentarian. The device allows Freddie to introduce all kinds of colorful characters, both long time residents and the invading yuppies, showing a neighborhood in transition. It also allows them to cut away from their less than slick cinematography to some effective video shots.

"The North End" isn't a great film, but it's got a lot of heart and makes some very funny observations, mostly from Di Bella. He's an actor who specializes in mafia types (just like the man who plays him). His fame allows him to take on the persona of the characters he plays, a nifty idea. He cautions the camera that one should never raise one's hand to a woman, then concludes that it's different with a wife or a sister, because then it's a family matter, like it says in the Bible. His summations are so stereotypically macho, but Vincent makes them almost seem unexpected which makes one laugh in surprise.

Dom and his cronies hang at Dolce Vita, an overly decorated Italian restaurant owned by one of their own, Georgio, whom Dom constantly chastizes for hiring Morrocans and serving 'tourist' expresso.

Of the three main characters, Lina Sovio shows some acting chops as the heroine following in her legendary mother's footsteps as a great beauty being victimized by the macho Italian ways. The Italian men of the North End protect their women (Dom advises 'do the handsome thing') but also keep them under their thumbs.

The handsome Matthew Del Negro is the sensitive Freddie whom Danielle realizes too late is the man for her. Mark Hartmann is the bullying ex-football star, initially accepted by the community because even if he's only half Italian, he's Italian on the 'right' side (his mother's). Both have their moments, but neither is as good as Sovio. More experienced direction would probably have aided these two performances.

While neither the cast nor the tech credits are uniformly strong, the Ciotas have created a real sense of place with "The North End." They also show that they have some good ideas with both the structure and dialogue in their screenplay. They need to learn how to stage an effective fight sequence (the ones in this film are terribly amateurish), light their interiors and guide their actors to more levels of nuance. I just hope now that they've created their ode to their changing community, they haven't exhausted what they have to say.

B-

Robin ROBIN:
I love regional filmmaking and really want to support it. Unfortunately, here, in the film production wasteland of Northeast USA (not counting New York City), there is little independent film activity. So, it is a pleasant task to support a local work such as the just-premiered first effort by brothers (director) Frank and (screenwriter) Joseph Ciota in their minimal-budget effort "The North End."

The Ciota boys have made a technically amateur work that displays an awful lot of intelligence in its writing and, some, acting. The tech aspects run from the ridiculous (a horribly cheesy beating scene looks grade school) to the sublime shots of fem lead Lina Sivio as the sultry Danielle.

Let's get the tech aspects out of the way. Ciota Bros.: get a book on how to make film and lose the jump cuts, shaky camera and out of focus shots. Filmmaking basics are essential in making it in the pros, so please heed the advice.

Long-time Martin Scorcese character actor Frank Vincent ("GoodFellas") is used to anchor the film as a mobster, turned character actor, turned pseudo-mobster who loves his North End ethnic community. Vincent's casting is a neat coup by the young filmmakers. His Dom DiBella is a neighborhood icon who, having spent years as an actor playing mob roles in Hollywood, has settled back into the 'hood, acting as a celluloid Don to help preserve his beloved Italian community in the face of post-Yuppie gentrification of Boston's North End.

Besides Vincent, only Lina Sivio (who, at times and lighting, resembles Isabella Rossellini and Selma Hayek, comes across as a pro. Other principles, Fredo (Matt Del Negro) and Mac (Mark Hartmann) give amateur performances, with Del Negro exuding the most sensitivity.

"The North End" is a small, independent film that deserves encouragement for two reasons: It is a ballsy example of no-budget local film that shows talent on several levels. It is also a good example of what talent and ability are capable of if the heart and desire are there.

I give "The North End" a B-.


BULWORTH

Incumbent US Senator from California, Jay Billington Bulworth (Warren Beatty), is in big trouble. He is facing personal economic disaster due to bad investments. He's also in danger of losing his liberal Democrat senate seat. And, he hasn't eaten or slept in days. His addled mind is on the verge of a nervous breakdown as he makes a deal with a corrupt insurance company lobbyist (Paul Sorvino) for a $10 million dollar life insurance policy while he arranges for his own death with an unknown hit man. This combination turns out to be a catharsis for the senator and he throws caution and everything else to the wind as he finally speaks the real truth in "Bulworth."

Robin ROBIN:
Writer/director/producer/actor Warren Beatty returns to the screen for the first time in all these capacities since 1990's "Dick Tracy." Where that film was a visual homage to the kitsch of the 30's comic strip, "Bulworth" pays its own homage to biting political satire, especially Paddy Chayefsky's "Network." "The mad prophet of the airways" is replaced by "the mad prophet of the campaign trail" as Bulworth tells his black constituents to give up chicken wings, malt liquor, and OJ (without naming him) if they want change. He then alienates the Hollywood power brokers when he tells invitees from the industry that his staff is told to always include the "really big Jews" in his campaign fund drives. The darkly humorous satire of this "what if" story has the potential to be an A film. Too bad Beatty misses the mark.

Instead of sticking with the idea of a political candidate speaking his mind, Beatty falls into the more mundane and formulaic as he makes a caricature of Bulworth, eventually dressing the senator as a homeboy and doing his political speeches and interviews in rap cadence. I have to admit, Beatty cuts an amusing swath in his hip-hop shorts, sneaks, stocking cap and shades. But, this is also where the film turns from satire to silliness, which prevails for the bulk of the film. Where "Network" piled satire upon outrageous satire, Beatty opted to take the safe path, poking humor at himself as the film progressed and losing the cutting edge it started with. Beatty, as Bulworth, does give a funny perf of a man on the brink of a nervous breakdown and enlightenment..

Supporting cast is mixed. Halle Berry, as the enigmatic, sullen Nina, does little with the role as Bulworth's confidant as she says little and acts less. Oliver Platt as Murphy, Bulworth's political advisor and campaign manager, fairs better as he struggles in a hopeless battle to control his charge from self destruction. The rest of the cast, including long-time Beatty character actor Jack Warden, Christine Baranski, Don Cheadle and Paul Sorvino, are two dimensional at best. There is also the now-obligatory appearance by Larry King.

Technically, "Bulworth" has a flatness to its production that is surprising. Academy Award winners, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro ("Apocalypse Now" "Reds") and production designer Dean Tavoulis ("The Godfather Part II"), are pretty much wasted except for a few brief moments.

The predominantly rap score fits the funkiness that Beatty seems to seek.

I really looked forward to "Bulworth" to be a great satire on big-time politics in the 90's. I got a middling funny film with a good, if silly, performance by Warren Beatty, and not much more. I give "Bulworth" a C+.

Laura LAURA:
In "Bulworth," 60's political activist and Bobby Kennedy supporter Warren Beatty attempts to lay bare what's wrong with U.S. politics in the 90's as the title character, democratic Senator Jay Bulworth. Set a few days before the 1996 elections, Bulworth is despondent after losing a fortune and viewing his own hollow campaign advertisements. Bulworth arranges a 10 million dollar life insurance policy with his teenage daughter as the recipient, contracts a hit on himself and travels to L.A. for some final campaign stops. Freed by the exhilaration of not having long to be responsible for his actions (as well as the almost hallucinatory effects of not having eaten or slept for three days), Bulworth shuns his prepared speeches to speak his mind. What he has to say is strong stuff indeed.

Co-writer/director Beatty has a field day in the initial part of his film. Bulworth tells the members of a black parish that the promises made to them were never kept because they haven't contributed to his campaign, and besides, they too busy drinking malt liquor, eating chicken wings and supporting murderous former football stars. With three young hip hop parishioners who've found his honesty refreshing in tow (including Halle Berry as Nina, a potential love interest), he continues to his next stop in Beverly Hills and insults a group of Hollywood heavyweights in Beverly Hills he's kept waiting because he had to make a stop at KFC on the way. By the time he makes it to a huge fund raising dinner where his wife (Christine Baranski) awaits, he's rapping his message of corporate greed's pollution of politics with his South Central Greek chorus.

Beatty plays Bulworth as sweetly zonked out on life as his campaign manager, Murphy (Oliver Platt), suffers one apoplexy after another. (Platt, in a hilarious turn, perfectly sums up the bad side of politics as he constantly switches his patter to save his own career.) Beatty himself hasn't been this entertaining in years. He eventually champions the downtrodden black urban citizen as he gradually morphs into a homeboy and experiences racial strife first hand.

Unfortunately, the film isn't as strong as it could have been, mostly due to the underwritten character of Nina whose motivations are never entirely clear. The more sharply written parts of the film lose some of their punch when other scenes, such as Bulworth's attempts to call off his contract hit, aren't as well conceived. The film's darkly ironic ending won't appeal to all, but frankly, I don't see how Beatty could have dealt with it any better. I particularly liked the final lines of the homeless black muse who follows the action around L.A.

Technically the film is mostly top notch, although the pacing could have been tightened (more due to the deficiencies of the script than the editting). Interesting lensing is provided by the legendary Vittorio Storaro, particularly in a hip hop nightclub scene. The score by Ennio Morricone and rap soundtrack nicely punctuate the action.

B


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