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BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS

Written and directed by Alan Rudolph

That's a relief, because Vonnegut himself says in his introduction to the experimental teleplay Between Time and Timbuktu, "Film is too clankingly real, too permanent, too industrial for me ... it is also too fucking expensive to be much fun." This opinion held in check, the author's dedication allows him to appear here in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo as the director of one of Dwayne Hoover's tacky commercials. He's fine, of course, and the entire cast is truly stellar. Performances are adventurous and excellent -- there's not a clinker in the batch. Willis has so much intelligent fun with Dwayne Hoover that any and all Die Hards are forgiven. (Set this one beside The Fifth Element and Twelve Monkeys on your video shelf.) Finney gives Trout a cantankerous beauty that would be unimaginable with any other actor, his decades of genius filling out the script's telegraphed tics. Headly is a scream with her chirpy Francine Pefko, and Epps' Hoobler literally screams "FAIRYLAND!" with such abandon that one realizes he's sane inside the collective insanity. Hershey is both cute and spooky, and Haas ... well, imagine Bowie at a Wurlitzer.

Bringing it all home is Nolte, always good but never before this preposterously funny. His terrified discomfort (and inevitable release) over cross-dressing are so palpable that one shudders right along with him. That sums up why Breakfast of Champions works so well: It's hard not to shudder at this glimpse of poisonous artificiality and the erratic things it makes us do. A movie this incisive almost makes me want to cut a little slack for Dad, and for America.

Opens Oct. 22 at the Tivoli.

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