ADMITTEDLY, not all of Alan Rudolph's adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's novel Breakfast of Champions works, but it's far from the failure some critics (Entertainment Weekly's Owen Glieberman, most egregiously) have called it. A total failure is a film that should be avoided at all costs (movies like Flawless, or anything by Joel Schumacher), whereas Rudolph's Breakfast of Champions really ought to be seen.

The story, like most of Vonnegut's work, is a playful look at serious issues: pollution, the threat of extinction, existential questions of self, etc. Bruce Willis plays Wayne Hoover, a small-town celebrity trusted by the masses because he's on TV (in hilariously low-rent commercials for his car dealership). On the surface he has it all, but his marriage is crumbling and inside he's empty and suicidal. A producer of the film, Willis was obviously interested in examining the false face of celebrity, and the fact that this movie was made while his marriage to Demi Moore was falling apart only adds depth to his role. Nick Nolte plays Hoover's #1 salesman, Harry Lasalle, who's got secrets of his own, not the least of which is a cross-dressing fetish that causes him to question his masculinity. There are scenes between these two that are full of top-notch acting, where even Rudolph's roving camera settles down to watch them, and these scenes are as good as anything filmed last year.

Add the support of Albert Finney as an extinction-obsessed Kilgore Trout, and a "Hawaiian cocktail" score by Martin Denney, and you have lots of really good film bits, even if the whole doesn't entirely work. It's precisely this hit-and-miss spirit of experimentation that is absent from most American independent films. Go see Breakfast of Champions and see what everybody else is missing.

Alan Rudolph Tries Something Different

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