Time to stoke the flames of the unfilmable novel debate by tossing a new book on the fire. This time it's Breakfast Of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut's cryptic, self-consuming comedy about life, the universe and Buicks. It's the one where convict Wayne Hoobler (Epps) wants to work for car dealer Dwayne Hoover because their names sound so similar; where Hoover's manager Harry (Nolte) is terrified that his cross-dressing secret will be revealed; and where a millionaire collects ageing porno magazines because they're the only place that Kilgore Trout's imaginative but terribly written sci-fi stories were published.
The problem is, when you take away the book's time-jumping structure, bemusing comments about the world and Vonnegut's unique phraseology, you're left with the bare scaffolding of a plot. Which, like many Vonnegut novels, doesn't really amount to a whole lot. So, although it's funny watching Nick Nolte prancing around in lingerie or witnessing Bruce Willis' slide into insanity being illustrated by words flying, letter by letter, into his throbbing brain, there's little narrative thrust to take you from one scene to the next.
Starved of this forward movement, we're left with scene after scene of oddness that come in little obvious order and just fill the time between the opening and endcredits. Willis looks flustered and confused with a hideous comb-over haircut, Albert Finney mutters phrases that'll only mean anything to anyone who's read the book and even the tiniest roles are taken by recognisable actors such as Will Patton and Michael Clarke Duncan. Why so many names should have been attracted to such a high-risk, low-return venture is a mystery.
Reading Breakfast Of Champions is an enjoyable exercise in devouring writing style and ideas rather than story. And, although the film stays true to the book in plot and tone, what's missing is the whole point of the exercise: Kurt Vonnegut's words. So give Breakfast a miss, and chalk it up alongside Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Naked Lunch and Catch 22 as a complex book that will always defy attempts at movification.
Breakfast Of Champions makes previous excursions into suburban oddness such as Blue Velvet seem positively mainstream. All the efforts of the impressive cast and crew can't save this from being an unmoving and baffling experience.