Friday, April 14, 2017


Breakfast Of Champions is Kurt Vonnuget’s story of car salesman “Dwayne Hoover” and obscure aging author "Kilgore Trout" (a Vonnegut regular). Dwayne Hoover is on the verge of a nervous breakdown while Kilgore Trout is on the eve of receiving an award for his mostly overlooked writing. It was adapted for the screen in 1998 and I’m almost certain no one has thought about it since then. …Except me. I don’t like Alan Rudolph’s adaptation but I also kind of secretly do. Whenever it comes up in conversation (…conversations that I usually initiate) I always talk about how terrible it is yet I still own the DVD that I purchased at full price. In the 14+ years that I’ve owned it, I’ve had countless opportunities to get rid of it (I’ve been giving away quite a few DVDs in the last 5 years) yet it still sits in my collection. I just can’t let it go. One of the reasons I keep it is because I like to re-cast the movie in my head every time I watch it. It’s a fun little exercise that makes the viewing experience easier. Alan Rudolph’s ensemble cast is an all-star lineup (on paper) made up of folks like Bruce Willis (Hoover), Albert Finney (Trout) Glenne Headly, Barbara Hershey, Nick Nolte, Buck Henry, Michael Jai White, Omar Epps, Lucas Haas, Owen Wilson and countless others. However, my cast is made up of folks like Tom Hanks (Hoover), Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, Gianna Michaels and a few more odd choices under the direction of Steven Soderbergh. Lucas Haas’ role as Dwayne Hoover's son "Bunny" would remain. That casting was spot on in my opinion. I would also keep Albert Finney on board as Kilgore Trout only with a slightly toned down performance. And if not Albert Finney I’d probably cast Werner Herzog in his place.

Part of my fascination with this movie has to do with the similarities between director Alan Rudolph & Kilgore Trout. Rudolph & Trout are the kinds of artists that are respected by their peers and small cult audiences. Rudolph is/was a personal favorite and/or friend of legends like Robert Altman & Martin Scorcese (Altman & Rudolph have worked together on more than one occasion). The way in which Kilgore Trout’s work is re-discovered & re-appraised in Breakfast Of Champions is no different from Rudolph’s work. He’s the kind of filmmaker that will get ignored while he's active then suddenly get a career retrospective at a major repertory arthouse theater like The Lincoln Center or The Brooklyn Academy Of Music.

Alan Rudolph's cameo in Robert Altman's The Player
Robert Altman was originally supposed to adapt Breakfast Of Champions in the last 70's. Perhaps Altman had something to do with Alan Rudolph directing it years later...

Breakfast Of Champions is another example of how an all-star ensemble cast doesn't always guarantee that a movie is going to be good. We’ve all seen people get excited about a movie because the cast is stacked. Look at the movie of discussion. Doesn’t something co-starring Buck Henry, Omar Epps, Lucas Haas & Albert Finney sound interesting? Sure it does. But names don’t make a movie great. We’ve seen this over & over. From Southland Tales & The Ten to The Grand & Grand Budapest Hotel (admit it – that movie is overrated and coasts on its quirkiness),these types of movies sometimes fall flat. I understand the hype behind ensemble casts but that’s still no reason to think a movie is going to be great. The acting, chemistry, ambiance, story, direction and so many other things have to be on point. Unfortunately, none of those things were really on point in Alan Rudolph’s film (there’s some irony in my criticism of ensemble casts given Steven Soderbergh would be my go-to director for this and he’s kind of the king of ensemble cast movies).
It should be noted that a lot of the cameos & small roles in Breakfast Of Champions are made up of the supporting cast of the Bruce Willis-starring Armageddon (both movies were made around the same time so I imagine Bruce Willis had something to do with this).

Breakfast Of Champions is bad and entertaining at the same time. Now…I don’t know about you guys but the combination of something that's bad and (genuinely) entertaining is sometimes interesting. This movie is bad because it feels like Alan Rudolph and his team sat down in a pre-production meeting and said something like; “Guys – we’re going to make a weird movie”. I’m sure that didn’t really happen but no matter how you rationalize it, this movie’s weirdness & surreality comes off super forced to the point where it’s kind of embarrassing. It’s the kind of weirdness that a clueless/basic film blogger would compare to David Lynch because apparently weird in cinema = David Lynch. I’m willing to bet there are people out there who saw this movie and said something like; “David Lynch should have totally directed this!” But I don’t think David Lynch could have adapted this successfully either. And I’m a David Lynch fan saying this. Lynch adapting Vonnegut is almost like Scarlett Johansson doing porn. It sounds intriguing but the final product would more than likely be disappointing.

Perhaps this particular Kurt Vonnegut story wasn't meant to be a movie. This isn’t the only Kurt Vonnegut story to be adapted for the screen. Prior to this, we got Slaughterhouse Five in 1976 & Mother Night in 1996 (another Vonnegut adaptation starring Nick Nolte). As a movie Breakfast Of Champions is short considering the source material. Less than two hours just doesn’t cut it. I know Slaughterhouse Five is only 100 minutes but the word count for Breakfast of Champions is a lot more than Slaughterhouse Five.

Breakfast Of Champions is kind of like Uma Thurman’s scene in Nymphomaniac stretched out in to a feature length film. There’s something “off” about the whole thing but you recognize & respect the dedication so you keep watching. No matter how much of a misfire most of the performances are, you have to respect specific actors like Nick Nolte & Omar Epps who really gave it their all…

And maybe that’s why I’m so attached to this movie. No matter how terrible it is, the actors in this movie did not phone it in. It’s kind of like when your math teacher would give you points for “showing your work” on a test even if you got the answers wrong. Certain actors in this movie really did step outside of their comfort zone. I normally like when people stay in their lane and stick to what they’re good at but every once in a while that gets boring. Michael Jai White will probably go down in history as a varsity letterman of the direct-to-video action market but at least he has this one strange movie under his belt. Omar Epps will probably forever be remembered for his roles in “urban dramas” like Juice & In To Deep (probably Love & Basketball as well) but he also has some random stuff under his belt like this & Brother. Nick Nolte will forever be remembered as the quintessential disheveled grumpy guy, but his performance as "Harry" is a break from the norm. I want to call his performance a breath of fresh air but nothing about Breakfast Of Champions is a complete breath of fresh air (I still have a soft spot in my heart for it at the end of the day).

All the pieces were there to adapt this movie in to something good but all the parts didn't fit for whatever reason(s). It’s like a relationship between two good people. Sometimes it just doesn't work and it's no one's fault...


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