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IN SHORT: Like eating Tang straight from the bottle. [Rated [R], 110 minutes]
As a rule CrankyCritic.com doesn't compare to Source Material, but we will make these observations: Among Cranky's favorite authors are Hunter Thompson, whose work doesn't translate to the big screen. Neither does Tom Robbins. Tom Wolfe is batting .500. I keep waiting for someone to take a Kurt Vonnegut story and get some of the madness and totally-perfect-for-the-page-and-only-the-page storytelling therein, wrestle it to the ground and figure out how to stuff it into the celluloid frame in a way that doesn't require immersion in the published text. The wait continues.
Writer/Director Alan Rudolph sure has pumped some of the craziness onto the big screen in his adaptation of Breakfast of Champions, but the fact remains that Vonnegut doesn't translate. Part of it has to do with the fact that the cultural climate of his most famous work included the post WWII parents of Vietnam era kidlets and all the nutzoid schisms of the 60s. Thirty years later, give or take, the touchstones don't ring with the same vibrancy. Well, maybe in California . . .
But the location on the map reads Midland City, which looks very much like Twin Falls Idaho, a town with Dwayne Hoover's (Bruce Willis) massive car lot on one side and the expansion settlement called Sugar Creek -- built on a toxic waste dump -- on the other. In between is a major traffic jam. Hoover's wife Celia (Barbara Hershey) is zonked out on a tranquilizing medication called Relax. His son George (Lukas Haas) prefers to be called Bunny, after his slippers and backpack, and entertains the local patrons and various adulterers at the AmeriRest Inn, coincidentally owned by and patronized by Dwayne, and dedicated secretary Francine Pefko (Glenne Headly). Wait, there's more . . .
Frank Le Sabre (Nick Nolte), Duane's sales manager, likes to wear women's clothing. Frank's dominating better half (Vicki Lewis) wants to move to Maui. And there's an ex-con named Wayne Hoobler (Omar Epps) idolizing the similarly named Dwayne Hoover living in a car on the lot. Not to mention the looming presence of an EPA investigation of Sugar Creek, or the Midland Arts Fair featuring "world renowned" author Kilgore Trout (Albert Finney), who believes mirrors are better called "Leaks" because parallel universes leak into each other via their reflective properties. Or something. It is only when Hoover meets Trout, is a sort of sanity and understanding imparted into a world which has pushed him to the brink of eating a .38 shell for lunch.
Trout, whose work is published as filler in porno magazines of the type not seen since the 50s, is a recurring character in Vonnegut's books as a reflection of the author, so I've read. Finney says Vonnegut told him to go out and create a character. What Finney delivers is the only "sane" performance in a story that is otherwise about going insane. Of course, Trout looks and rants like a paranoid homeless person as he hitchhikes towards Midland City. This performance, grounded in reality, is the one I walked away happy with. But it's been many years since I avidly devoured Vonnegut, and my brain turned to mush long ago. I should have liked Breakfast of Champions more, but I didn't.
It is strongly recommended that you read the book first. Use the link below to order.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Breakfast of Champions, he would have paid...
Rent it. Trafalmador is never mentioned, but you get a glimpse of it at the end of the flick, if I remember my books correctly. If not, it still doesn't mean much to the overall scheme of things.
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