The story begins as the title character, Senator Jay Bulworth of California, grows weary with his political career and failing marriage. He decides to end his life, taking out a ten million dollar life insurance policy so his daughter will remain well off, and hiring a hitman to kill him in two days' time. With nothing to lose, he spends his final hours telling the public how he really feels about them, smoking marijuana, dressing like a gangsta rapper, and rapping about socialism.
With a new found purpose in life as the voice of the underclass, he begins to regret his decision to hire someone to kill him. Can he stay one step ahead of the assassin's bullet?
This work contains examples of:
- Angst Coma: Bulworth falls into one of these towards the end of the film.
- Brutal Honesty: Bulworth himself, naturally.
- Character Title
- Cool Old Guy: Bulworth becomes this once he decides to speak whatever comes to mind, arrives to Larry King Live dressed like a gangsta rapper, and says on a live TV broadcast "the real way to end racism is that people should fuck each other".
- Deadpan Snarker: Aaron Sorkin did uncredited work on the script, so naturally there are plenty of examples of this trope.
- Downer Ending: Bulworth finds out Nina was the assassin sent to kill him. But she refuses to fulfill the contract, seeing up close that Bulworth could really make a difference if he lives. Just when Bulworth gets a good night's rest and wakes up clear-headed and ready to get back to campaigning for real, someone else shoots him.
- Gratuitous Rap: It is quite clear that Sen. Bulworth has not practiced his craft much.
- The rapping gets worse as Bulworth's insomnia does.
- Heroic BSoD: Bulworth. Halfway through the movie he's clearly insomniac and falling apart. But his breakdown is making him more popular (and depending on your political view, more sane).
- Hope Spot: When Bulworth finds out Nina won't kill him after all. Some other assassin — and it's never said who hired that guy — blows him away the next morning.
- Hypocritical Humor/Knew It All Along: Murphy has been upset about the way Bulworth has gone off message thanks to his Heroic BSoD until members of the media (including Larry King) congratulate him on Bulworth's new strategy; Murphy immediately turns around and acts as if it was his plan all along.
- In Love with the Mark: Nina is revealed to be Bulworth's assigned assassin, but decides to not fulfill the contract after realizing his potential and also falling for him.
- In the Future, Humans Will Be One Race: When Bulworth is on TV in brutal-honesty mode, he suggests that the U.S.A. should engage in "a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction". Seeing the blank look on the interviewer's face, he re-phrases it more bluntly: "Everybody just gotta keep fuckin' each other 'til they're all the same color".
- Irrevocable Order: The hitman Bulworth hires can't be called off.
- MayDecember Romance: Bulworth (Beatty) falls hard for the much younger Nina (Berry), who seemingly brushes him off with a cutting remark about how old he really is. This is a bit of an In-Joke regarding actor Beatty's notorious womanizing well into... well, when the movie was made.
- Meaningful Name: His bizarre acts of freestyling the hard, nasty truths of American politics make him worth the bullshit of the current "status quo".
- Only Sane Man: In a way, Bulworth really is sane, as his breakdown allows him to speak truths he couldn't otherwise say in the current political climate. But it also applies to Bulworth's beleaguered campaign manager Murphy (Oliver Platt) who's trying to keep up with the increasing craziness surrounding him.
- Pretty Fly for a White Guy: A political example.
- Refuge in Audacity: The more Bulworth acts crazy, the more the public supports him. Dressing up gangsta and dropping the N-word everywhere makes him even more popular.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: After all that self-discovery and personal growth, Bulworth is assassinated. By someone else — the hitman (or rather hitwoman) he hired decided not to, noticing that he had a chance of making things better for people.
- Suicide by Assassin: Bulworth is so depressingly fed up with his cookie-cutter campaign and how he feels like he's sold out that he decides to hire someone to kill him.
- Suicide by Cop
- Throwing Out the Script: Bulworth gets visibly bored of his speech, then gives a very candid answer to an audience question and never stops.
- Vice City: Much of the third act takes place in South Central Los Angeles.
- Your Days Are Numbered: Putting out a hit on himself frees Sen. Bulworth to say what he really thinks.
- "You can't be no ghost, Bulworth, you gotta be a spirit."