By Ron Wells | September 20, 1999

I think Bruce Willis has a problem. He would appear to be at odds with his wise-cracking, action-star public persona. Luckily, Bruce found Alan Rudolph, who has waited 20 years to direct an adaptation of the book, “Breakfast of Champions” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who, at least, deeply understands Willis’ problem.
Two people are fated to come together. One is Kilgore Trout (Albert Finney), a failed writer of supposed science fiction novels that nobody understands (a funhouse version of the author, himself). The other is Dwayne Hoover (Willis) owner of the sprawling Exit 11 Auto Village in Midland in the heart of America. Dwayne is a beloved local celebrity from all of wacky television commercials. That person is now a stranger to the deeply unhappy and unraveling Wayne who now seems to find solace in a quiet moment with a gun in his mouth. Even his family only sees the slick surfaces of his public persona. The only guy around who might understand is long-time pal and sales manager, Harry Le Sabre (Nick Nolte), but he’s crazier than Dwayne is. Will Kilgore, invited to the first Midland arts festival, be able to help, or will he make things worse? Insanity, absurdity, and much, much hilarity ensues.
Willis didn’t start out making action flicks and after the troika of crap (“The Jackal”, “Mercury Rising”, “Armageddon”) and his supporting role in the failed, “The Siege”, he seems in no hurry to get back to them. With this new film, “The Sixth Sense”, and the upcoming “The Story of Us”, he’s obviously pretty hungry to act again and Rudolph gives him the place to do it.
The director has created a stylized world which most of its lost souls can’t distinguish from the one they see on commercial breaks. The people all want to walk around with big smiles in the sunshine, but the thin coat of gloss won’t always cover the stink of reality. Trout looks like the crazy one until you find out that it’s everybody else. Hoover knows he’s crazy, but has to learn that it’s not just him.
Now like Vonnegut’s books, this film is not for everyone. Of the preview audience with me, maybe 3/4 though it was just self-indulgent crap. They couldn’t connect with the issues underneath and how they related to the style of the movie. The rest, like me, were nearly wetting their pants with laughter at a pretty brutal satire of Republican America. Like the characters in the movie, you have to come prepared to think if you’re going to get anywhere.

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