Breakfast of Champions

USA 1999

Reviewed by Edward Lawrenson


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Midland City, the US, the present. Having failed to go through with a suicide attempt, Pontiac car salesman Dwayne Hoover bids goodbye to his depressed wife Celia and leaves for work. Pulp science-fiction writer Kilgore Trout, meanwhile, has been invited by millionaire admirer Eliot Rosewater to an art festival he's bank-rolling in the city. Curious, the writer begins to hitchhike there from Detroit.

At Hoover's showroom, car salesman and secret cross-dresser Harry Le Sabre mistakenly thinks that Hoover, his boss, knows he's a transvestite. Later, Hoover slips away with his employee Francine and has sex with her in a hotel. Afterwards, he runs into his son, cocktail pianist Bunny, whom he's disowned for being gay. Wayne Hoobler, who has been obsessed with Hoover while serving time at Shepardstown Adult Correctional Centre, a nearby prison, is released and camps out at Hoover's showroom; Le Sabre, meanwhile, reveals his penchant for wearing women's clothes live on television while advertising Hoover's showroom. Trout makes it to the festival hotel as Hoover - in the throes of a mental breakdown - checks in. At the festival, Hoover meets Trout, attacks Bunny and runs off. On the outskirts of the city, Hoover is reconciled with Bunny and Celia.


In the preface to his 1973 novel Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut's admits writing the book was a way to clear his head of "all the junk in there". This authorial aside is typical Vonnegut: chatty, confessional and self-deprecatory. And it's this sprightly tone which makes his rather dated satire on consumerism worth reading. Interspersing his tale of car salesman Dwayne Hoover's breakdown with frivolous illustrations and his alter-ego novelist Kilgore Trout's darkly comic observations on life - at one point, Kilgore tells us he wants his epitaph to read, "He tried" - Vonnegut at least makes a pretty display of all the junk he disgorges.

Sadly, director Alan Rudolph's adaptation has none of this assured lightness of touch. Structurally, the film is a mess: on screen, the novel's digressive, anecdotal narrative seems directionless and muddled. Trout's long trek, for instance, across the US for an arts festival in Midland City is ponderously done; and when he finally gets there, his brief scenes with Hoover are curiously throwaway, their dialogue heavy on allusive aphorisms ("It's all life, so make use of it"). For most of the film, Albert Finney's performance as Trout is one long monologue: muffled by a thick coat and fur hat, the writer's wheezy pronouncements can be enjoyable, but Finney has none of the old-man insouciance of the novel's Trout. There, Trout talked to his pet bird because he wanted to and didn't care if it seemed weird; in the film, he also talks to his bird, but this time it feels like a handy way for Rudolph to impart crucial plot points.

But the film is at its most disappointing depicting Hoover's mental breakdown. When we first see the successful car salesman, he's quivering in his bathroom, with a gun jammed in his mouth. And that's about the sanest he gets; from then on, it's all unhinged histrionics, maudlin asides and uncalled-for assaults on his mild-mannered employees. Bruce Willis attacks the part at full throttle. But while the partly self-financed film is no vanity project - at one point, after sex with his secretary in a cheap hotel, Hoover's brush-over hairstyle peels away from his bald patch and falls limply to one side - Willis' performance, all madness, no method, soon feels embarrassingly indulgent. Rudolph - best known for such romantic dramas as Afterglow - has a reputation as an actor's director, but here his impressive cast, including Nick Nolte as a cross-dressing car salesman and Omar Epps as Hoover's harmless stalker, are allowed to over-act wildly. Despite a few rather forced visual flourishes - feet sinking into a CGI pavement as if it's made of treacle - Rudolph relies largely on crudely overblown acting styles to convey Hoover's increasingly skewed world view. At times, the result leaves you thinking of an actors' improvisation session gone badly wrong. Judging from the film's perfunctory UK release, it seems the distributors are quietly burying Breakfast of Champions. And in the end, the kindest comment you can make about Rudolph is the very thing Kilgore Trout wanted on his tombstone: he tried.


Alan Rudolph
David Blocker
David Willis
Alan Rudolph
Based on the novel by
Kurt Vonnegut Jr
Director of Photography
Elliot Davis
Suzy Elmiger
Production Designer
Nina Ruscio
Mark Isham
©Sugar Creek Productions, Incorporated
Production Companies
Hollywood Pictures/ Summit Entertaiment and Flying Heart Films
Commercial Segment Producer
Mark McNair
Associate Producer
Sandra Tomita
Production Associate
Monica de Armond
Production Co-ordinator
Alison Sherman
Unit Production Manager
Jane Bartelme
Location Manager
Victoria Golden
Location Co-ordinator
Bradley Bemis
Post-production Supervisor
Charlie Vogel
Assistant Directors
Cara Giallanza
Eric Fox Hays
Adam Glickman
Script Supervisor
Annie Welles
Pam Dixon Mickelson
Barbara Allen
Animation Element Photographers
Paul Beauchemin
Chuy Elizondo
Jon Tucker
Camera Operator/ Steadicam
John Nuler
Visual Imagery
Stephen Kirklys
Visual Effects Supervisor
Janet Muswell
Visual Effects Co-ordinators
Suzanne Jack
Robert Parigi
Digital Visual Effects
Click 3X Los Angeles
Projection Services/ Additional Visual FX
Digital Film Services
Digital FilmWorks
Matte Painting
Moving Target
Special Effects
Bobby Riggs
Ray Brown
Lead Animator
Ingin Kim
Pat Campbell
Animation Co-ordinator
Andra Cekalla
Commercial Production Designer
Chuck Conner
Art Director
Randy Eriksen
Set Decorator
K.C. Fox
Costume Designer
Rudy Dillon
Costume Supervisor
Sandy Kenyon
Key Make-up
Gerald Quist
Debra Coleman
Key Hair Stylist
Bunny Parker
Hair Stylist
Kathe Swanson
Main Title Design
Steve Kirklys
Janet Muswell
Title Drawings
Kurt Vonnegut Jr
End Titles
Cinema Research Corporation
Cineric Inc
János Pilenyi
Songs Performed by
Martin Denny
Music Performed by
The Mark Isham Sessions
Clayton Haslop
Sid Page
Arni Egilsson
Frank Marocco
Alan Estes
Rich Ruttenberg
Bass Clarinet:
Jim Kanter
Stanley Behrens
The Sugar Creek Philharmonic
Ken Kugler
Music Producer:
Mark Isham
Music Editor:
Craig Pettigrew
Stephen Krause
The Bunny Hoover Sessions
Lukas Haas
Lukas Haas
Hal Sweazey
Additional Keyboards:
Jeffrey Bass
Mike Clair
Josh Kelly
Lukas Haas
David Blocker
Music Editor:
Jonathan Karp
Recording Engineer:
Randy Quigley
Music Editor
Steve Borne
"Stranger in Paradise", "Forbidden Island", "Aku, Aku", "Similau", "Cobra", "Oro", "Llama Serenade", "Quiet Village", "Coronation", "Hypnotique", "My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekau", "Flamingo", "Escales", "Jungle Madness", "Song of the Bayou", "Siboney", "Kalua (Love Song of)", "Exotica" - Martin Denny; "Stranger in Paradise" - The Ink Spots; "Nun's Chorus" & "Laura's Aria" - Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields; "Stranger in Paradise" - Arthur Lyman; "Borrowed Borodin"; "Stranger in Paradise", "Wedding Day", "Mr. Rhythm Mover", "Good Art Just Ahead" - Lukas Haas
Production Sound Recorder
Susumu Tokunow
Re-recording Mixers
Lou Solakofski
Orest Sushko
Audio Post Co-ordinator
Danielle Capawanna
Supervising Sound Editors
Paul P. Soucek
Eliza A. Paley
Sound Editor
William Sweeney
Dialogue Editor
Sylvia Menno
Sound Effects Editor
Michael W. Mitchell
Supervising Editor:
Lisa Levine
Bruce Kitzmeyer
Becky Sullivan
Donna Powell
Ian Rankin
Stunt Co-ordinator
Greg Walker
Animal Wrangler
Anne Gordon
Bruce Willis
Dwayne Hoover
Albert Finney
Kilgore Trout
Nick Nolte
Harry Le Sabre
Barbara Hershey
Celia Hoover
Glenne Headly
Francine Pefko
Lukas Haas
Bunny Hoover
Omar Epps
Wayne Hoobler
Vicki Lewis
Grace Le Sabre
Buck Henry
Fred T. Barry
Ken Campbell
Eliot Rosewater/Gilbert
Jake Johannsen
Bill Bailey
Will Patton
Chip Zien
Andy Wojeckowzski
Owen Wilson
Monte Rapid
Alison Eastwood
Maria Maritmo
Shawnee Smith
Bonnie MacMahon
Michael Jai White
Keith Joe Dick
Vernon Garr
Diane Dick
Rosemary Garr
Michael Duncan
Lahmard Tate
Kurt Vonnegut Jr
commercial director
Dawn Didawick
Bill Nagel
EPA lawyer
Karl Wiedergott
Patti Allison
Alexa Robbins
art hostess Kaye
Debra Dusay
art hostess Faye
Tom Robbins
Pesky Webber
Raymond O'Connor
Rabo Karebekian
Tisha Sterling
Beatrice Keedsler
Matt Callahan
Zeke the gas station attendant
Tracey Lee Mapstone
Mary Kennedy
Greg Walker
highway patrolman
David Blampied
prison guard
Greg Moore
porn store patron
Doug Hamblin
David Blampied
NY policeman
Patrice Thomas
NY policewoman
Nancy Volle
Danielle Kennedy
motel clerk
Scout Willis
young girl
Nicolas Small
young boy
Denise Simone
'Blue Monday' housewife
Russell Wilson
'Blue Monday' doctor
Scott Beauchemin
'Trypepton' husband
Kassandra Kay
'Trypepton' wife
Ken Odom
'Prodigal Life' husband
Erica Evans
'Prodigal Life' wife
David Kyle
'Prodigal Life' child
Richard Sheehan
Warner Bros Distributors (UK)
9,876 feet
109 minutes 45 seconds
Dolby Digital
In Colour
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011