Breakfast of Champions

SHADOWS AWARD WINNER BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR ALBERT FINNEY

dir-scr Alan Rudolph
with Bruce Willis, Albert Finney, Nick Nolte, Glenne Headley, Barbara Hershey, Lukas Haas, Omar Epps, Vicki Lewis, Owen Wilson, Buck Henry, Will Patton, Michael Clarke Duncan
Warners 99/US 1 out of 5 stars


Review by Rich Cline
Kurt Vonnegut novels are virtually unfilmable, and Breakfast of Champions is one of his most cleverly surreal, introspective tales. But that didn't stop the usually gifted Rudolph from giving it a go (he wrote the first draft more than 20 years ago). The resulting film is a chaotic mess that just about manages to bring out Vonnegut's insightful themes ... but it never works remotely on any other level.

The vast ensemble cast is utterly frenzied. Midland City's millionaire car dealer Dwayne Hoover (Willis) is having a nervous breakdown, while his wife (Hershey) drifts in and out of a drug haze, his son (Haas) struggles with his identity as a loud-dressing lounge singer, his oldest friend (Nolte) battles paranoia that his cross-dressing will be discovered, and his mistress/receptionist (Headley) just tries to please. Meanwhile, underground author Kilgore Trout (Finney) travels cross-country to attend Midland City's arts festival ... and a major showdown with the Truth. Sort of.

Rudolph never gets the tone right, going for a madcap, manic silliness that misses the point completely. Vonnegut's books are funny without being comedies; this film is a comedy without being funny. The wacky camera work, goofy graphics and over-the-top performances (Headley is the only character that comes across as a human being) are simply too much. There are some clever things in here, but the surrounding bedlam makes it impossible to connect at any level. It never comes together into anything meaningful, which makes the soppy finale even more sickening.

[15--adult themes and situations, language] 11.Jul.00
US release 17.Sep.99; UK release 14.Jul.00

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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