March 25, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST


Current Status
In Season
108 minutes
Warren Beatty, Halle Berry, Oliver Platt, Sean Astin, Don Cheadle, Nora Dunn, Paul Sorvino
Warren Beatty
20th Century Fox Film Corporation
Warren Beatty, Jeremy Pikser
Comedy, Drama
We gave it a B

With ”Primary Colors” simply a film à clef about a President we already knew was a poll-driven weasel and ”Wag the Dog”’s satire aimed more at Hollywood than Washington, the field for major political pictures was really wide open when along came ”Bulworth,” a lefty comedy too often ham-fisted but funny in its clobbering fashion. The ham at work is actor-director Warren Beatty, a pro at creating a particular type of character in politically loaded movies: charmers naive enough to stand up for what they believe; loners whose dissent from the reigning order dooms their quest for the American dream.

”Bulworth” marks Beatty’s happiest stab at political farce since ”Shampoo.” As his reelection campaign grinds to a close, the self-loathing Sen. Jay Billington Bulworth — once a committed liberal, now a poll-driven weasel — contracts a hit on himself. Liberated by this lame-duck status, he starts spouting ugly truths to his constituents. After a night at a hip-hop club, he starts gangsta-rapping antiestablishment axioms, falls in love with Halle Berry’s plot device of a fly girl, and gains a new vigor for life. All is leavened by Beatty’s charismatic comic genius: the stiff-backed getaway trot as he dodges his assassins, the double takes in recognition of his own clownishness. ”Bulworth” deploys Beatty’s infatuation with lost dreams, conveying the sad sense that whether or not his heroes end up dead, their hopes already are.

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