"Warren Beatty is a mack," Def Jam Records' Russell Simmons recently told The New York Times Magazine, referring to Beatty's countless sexual conquests on and off the screen. Simmons and Death Row Records' Suge Knight served as informal technical advisers on Bulworth, Beatty's frisky farce about a California senator who, driven over the edge by politics as usual, starts fighting the power with a white-boyz rap that makes Vanilla Ice sound like Ice T. Like Howard Beale in Network, Jay Billington Bulworth (Beatty) is mad as hell and isn't going to take it anymore. But will he abolish the system, or will the system be forced to abolish him? It may not have to. Early on, Bulworth takes out a contract on himself, and the movie is like the fevered hallucination of a man who knows he's about to die. With Beatty serving as co-producer, co-writer, director and star, Bulworth is an admirable piece of work--intelligent, entertaining and politically savvy. It's also teachy, preachy and never quite as funny as it should be. As co-producer, Beatty should perhaps have hired someone else to play the Grandmaster Flash of American politics. He's never been known for bustin' a groove, and though Bulworth hasn't been known for that either, the role might have benefited from someone who can.
A final problem: Bulworth portrays Bulworth as the black community's holy-fool savior. I suspect the black community would prefer that their man on a white horse not be a white man on a white horse. Still, the movie has many shockingly enjoyable things to say about a political culture in which race is but one of the walls dividing us. For blasting trumpets at those walls, Beatty has proven himself more than bulworthy.