The idea that politicians lie is as old as the idea of politicians. We all know that. But there’s an equally compelling idea, especially in Hollywood, that at some point a politician will come along who will just tell it like it is. The oldest example is probably Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and by “probably” I of course mean “I’m not going to actually do any research on this.” The point is that people seem to love movies* in which a president or senator opens all the sheeple’s eyes to the obvious truth that we all know in our hearts. This is how we got the movie Dave, and the previous Hunt nominee Man of the Year.
Perhaps the worst of these movies is Bulworth.
Bulworth was written and directed by Warren Beatty and tells the story of California senator J. Billington Bulworth. As the movie opens, he has not eaten or slept in days, he appears to have lost most of his money in an ill-advised investment, he has made a shady deal with an insurance company to kill their bill in committee in exchange for 10 million dollars in life insurance, and hired a hitman to kill him. Now he is off to California to finish the last weekend of stump speeches and fundraising before the primary election! Which is when he inexplicably stops using his prepared remarks, starts saying really racist stuff that is supposedly “true,” gets completely paranoid that the person he hired to kill him is going to kill him, and starts trying to fuck Halle Berry. Sure. Truth to power! Eventually, he decides that he wants to call off the self-assassination, but the guy who organized it has had a heart attack and is in the hospital! But here comes the twist: Halle Berry is the assassin! Well that would explain why she was pretending like she wanted to have sex with Warren Beatty! Anyway, of course Bulworth’s horrible rapping and delirious spouting off about horrendous ethnic stereotypes makes him win the election in a landslide, and now he is a powerful leader to the African American population who makes drug dealers want to stop selling drugs and start putting their energies into repairing their communities, because that’s how that works. And Halle Berry has fallen in love with him (sure) so he is safe from assassination and ready to shake things up! But at the end SPOILER ALERT he is assassinated, which would be stupid and hacky and overbearing enough as it is if he wasn’t assassinated by AN INSURANCE INDUSTRY LOBBYIST. Right. Insurance industry lobbyists are basically Washington’s most elite killing force. They are government’s Leon.
Even if this movie’s premise wasn’t stupid, and it is, very, and we will get to that, the decision to include long, extended, awkward rap into Bulworth’s truth-telling is inexplicably awful.
I remember wondering when I saw this the first time, back in 1998, what they were trying to say with the whole rap thing. Were you supposed to think it was really bad and that he should shut up? Because that is what you think. Especially the shut up part. And it’s not like it has aged badly. This was just as bad on the very first day. Really, some of the most awful minutes ever committed to film. For a film that claims to care so much about the plight of African Americans in modern day America, they sure did a bad job of co-opting and making a near-mockery of their culture.
Not to mention what the fuck is this?
The problem with this genre in general is that it relies on the idea that there is one truth out there that just never gets told. But obviously that’s not the case. America is a really big place with lots of people who hold widely differing opinions on some of the most fundamental concepts. It’s still weird as someone who voted for Barack Obama to imagine that millions and millions of people voted for John McCain (and his running mate, Sarah Palin). But of course they did. Love it or leave it or whatever. These colors don’t all vote the way you feel that they should according to your fundamental beliefs about the way the world should work.
Obviously, Bulworth’s “truth” is a liberal fantasy in the face of a Washington power structure built on greed and corruption. But this is one fucked up, pretty racist fantasy. The shit that comes out of Bulworth’s mouth is weird and simplistic and really offensive. It’s built on reductive stereotypes, as if the solution to the world’s tremendous social ills is just to spout off a bunch of self-satisfied one-liners about black people’s propensity for fried chicken, liquor, and jail. It’s like when Eminem raps about killing his wife and then says that he’s just saying what everyone is thinking but doesn’t have the balls to say, and it’s like, dude, we weren’t thinking that. Balls aside.
Speaking of balls, the movie spends a lot of time dealing with the issue of a black community without powerful leaders, which would be interesting and worth parsing out if I wasn’t so ashamed at the gall of Warren Beatty directing a movie in which he played the answer to that problem. Did you know that the final shot is supposed to echo the infamous photo of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination?
Just to clarify, Bulworth, played by Warren Beatty, is a modern day Martin Luther King, in a movie DIRECTED BY WARREN BEATTY. Some serious balls on this man right here. They don’t call him Warren “Monster Ballz” Beatty for nothing.
Of course, the true legacy of Bulworth is the Pras and ODB song (feat. Maya), “Ghetto Superstar.”
And perhaps that’s appropriate, that you will still hear this song recorded by actual black people, played during the 90s-at-9 block on Hot97 while the horrendous movie that engendered it fades into distant memory.
Even Bunk has moved on.
Don’t worry, Bunk! No one remembers!
Next week: Hanging Up. As always, please leave your suggestions in the comments or in an email. And if you haven’t done so already, please consult the Official Rules.
*Actually, there is absolutely no evidence that people love movies like this, but Hollywood definitely keeps making movies like this.