Thursday, May 17, 2012

bad/awesome flixxx review: Breakfast of Champions (1999)

"It's all life until your dead" - Dwayne Hoover

"Breakfast of champions, Mr. Hoover!" - Maid

"Modern science has given us a vast array of colors with exciting names like Red! Blue! Orange! Brown! and PINK!" - Dwayne Hoover

Based on the Kurt Vonnegut novel of the same name, we have here a very very hard to watch film.  It has enough star power to fill out any genre ensemble cast- but therein lies the problem.  The director might have gotten bogged down in the details of the characters, which can be a good thing, but here the jumping around necessary to character development is so rushed that it does a disservice to the cohesiveness of the film.  Bruce Willis, Albert Finney, Nick Nolte, Omar Epps, and Lukas Haas try their best (?) in an adaptation of one of  Vonnegut's best selling novels, BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS!!!


This one starts out with the protagonist Dwayne Hoover sitting in his bedroom with a pistol in his mouth JUST about to pull the trigger. But he doesn't. This flick differs a bit from the novel, but it doesn't really change too much stuff. I guess this one sort of has two protagonists if you count the side story which you think is a side story, but really has both "protagonists" meeting up with each other in the end. That's good storytelling in a book and I've even seen it pulled off well in television shows. The way it was done in this film seems kind of amateurish. We get the picture halfway through the film, but we are so exhausted by the time they do meet up, that most of us are questioning whether we give a shit or not.
See the whole thing is supposed to be a story about a society (or the USA) as a place where people are just either sedated beyond repair or so wound up that they are searching for anything, reaching out and looking for something, someone, some answers- whether its a god or found in a pill.

The director seems to try to get this point across, but it gets lost (maybe) in the direction the actor's are given.  I'm not sure if they are to blame or the director.  I'm sure they are playing it the way he wanted, but their overdone portrayals become caricatures of the sentiments (I think) they are meant to express.  Willis, Epps, and Nolte look like ham sandwiches.  I think Albert Finney steals the show, and there is another amazing "on tv" cameo by Owen Wilson that is amazing.  Talk about a guy who went for it.  They ran him through the wringer in the last few years as a "rom-com" (romantic comedy) dude.  But here, even if you consider him overbearing in his better roles (BOTTLE ROCKET, THE LIFE AQUATIC {I don't in those, but some people do}) you'll love his role reversal as the interviewer rather than his interviewee (see THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS).

Dwayne Hoover is a car salesman that is the most famous guy in town thanks to his constant barrage of local tv car commercials.  We've all seen them.  His wife is drugged up, his kid hasn't lived up to his expectations ( a la Death of a Salesman), he has an affair going on with his secretary at work, and his second in command hates his guts.  That character would love nothing more than to stand up to Dwayne, but he's too self conscious about his own desire to dress in women's clothing and how he thinks everyone will feel if they find that out.  The second part of the story is about washed up, burnt out, never was- science fiction author Kilgore Trout.  A very rich man named Rosewater is super into his stories (hundreds of novels, thousands of short stories- mostly printed in porno mags) and is a big philanthropist in the town.  He is throwing an arts festival there and invites Trout to come be the guest of honor.

At first Trout can't decide whether or not he wants to make it happen and come to the festival.  He is full of self doubt after being shit on all these years.  We see an inherent struggle that the author has made, and it automatically feels as if Vonnegut was self reflecting.  He finally decides to hitchhike to the city to see about this vindication and even though he doesn't believe it, see if someone really thinks his published career was worth a damn.  He even has pickup after pickup belittle his works- even when they don't know that they are by him.  We almost get the sense that he'll give up before he makes it to the art festival.  All the while Dwayne is having a mental breakdown.  He wants to stop and be a good family man, but he suffers from lusting after the flesh, and begins to actually hallucinate.  He also has some bad business deal he's involved in that is never explained, and actually detracts from the story.  The little attention paid to the father/son relationship and the creepy son/manager relationship is only very hinted about as well, which also leaves you wondering.  Not sure if the director just couldn't decide on what parts to leave in or take out, or if he just didn't do a good job, or just maybe didn't make the right decisions.  All in all, its terribly hard to watch.  I knew ten minutes in I didn't give a fuck about what happened.  But yet I sat there, teeth clenched, waiting.  Was there a pay off?  Well, I love Vonnegut.  The thing is, its still a good story.  Trout meets with Dwayne and finally he asks him these big life questions.  Trout who always has an answer for everything gives him EXACTLY what he wants to hear.  But Dwayne would have accepted anything he said, because he made it up in his mind that THIS man would be the one to help him out of his torment.  Unfortunately he mistook Trout and decided that he was the center of the universe and everyone was robots meant to serve their purpose for his ultimate life.  Then Trout had to stop him.  A bit different ending from the book.  I recommend reading it instead.


  1. I always wondered about this movie, i read the novel 6 years ago and was amazed by it so it was always in the back of my head to maybe check out the film. The guy that let me borrow the book told me it was Vonnegut's suicide note, probably why the ending is so powerful in the book. anyways i dont know if its real real or just romanticizing vonnegut

  2. Another Vonnegut novel turned movie is Mother Night featuring Nick Nolte in the lead role. If you find it, give it a watch.