A suicidally disillusioned liberal politician puts a contract out on himself and takes the opportunity to be bluntly honest with his voters by affecting the rhythms and speech of hip-hop music and culture.
Senator Jay Bulworth is facing speculation-induced financial ruin, so he puts out a contract on his own life in order to collect a large, new insurance policy for his family. Living each moment on borrowed time, he suddenly begins spouting raw, unfiltered--and sometimes offensive in word but satirical in spirit -- thoughts to shocked audiences and handlers in the speech of hip-hop music and culture. His newfound uninhibitedness and new relationship with Nina carry him on a journey of political and spiritual renewal.
Bulworth is a Democratic Senator running for re-election in Calfornia in 1996. Depressed by cashing in on the right-wing trend in politics at the expense of his beliefs, he orders a hit on himself after having taken out a huge life-insurance policy. His imminent death allows him to speak out in a brutally honest manner that is true to his old liberal--and even socialist--beliefs. He does so in the form of hip-hop music, which he discovers after falling in love with a Black woman from South Central Los Angeles.
After taking out a massive life-insurance policy on himself and hiring a hit man, Democratic Sen. Bulworth decides to have some fun and tell the truth as he sees it in hip-hop rhythms and with lots of F-words. Then he decides he doesn't want to die and intermixes being late for campaign events, giving interviews that lambaste the right-wing media conspiracy for failing to promote "that's right, socialism," and chasing a skirt, with trying to fire the Mafia boss in charge of his murder, all the while proving that white guys can be cool, too, in a geeky sort of way, and even gangstas respect caring.
- Set in March 1996, Democratic U.S. Senator Jay B. Bulworth (Warren Beatty) is a 60-year-old Democratic who is currently losing his bid for re-election to a fiery young populist. Bulworth's socialist views, formed in the 1960s and 1970s, have lost favor with voters, so he has conceded to more conservative politics and to accepting donations from big corporations. In addition, though he and his wife Constance (Christine Baranski) have been having affairs with each other's knowledge for years, they must still present a happy facade in the interest of maintaining a good public image.
Tired of politics, unhappy with his life in general, suffering from insomnia and planning to commit suicide, Bulworth negotiates a $10 million life insurance policy with his daughter as the beneficiary in exchange for a favorable vote from the insurance industry. Knowing that a suicide will void his daughter's inheritance, he contracts to have himself assassinated within two days.
Bulworth arrives in California to continue his campaign, but begins drinking excessively much to the shock of his campaign manager Dennis Murphy (Oliver Platt). Turning up at an African American church in South Central Los Angeles to speak at an event, the tired and extremely drunk Bulworth freely begins speaking his mind at public events and in the presence of the C-SPAN film crew.
After dancing all night in an underground club in South Central and smoking marijuana, he even starts rapping in public. His frank, potentially offensive remarks make him an instant media darling and re-energize his campaign. Along the way he becomes romantically involved with a young black activist named Nina (Halle Berry), who tags along with him on his campaign stops. He is pursued by the paparazzi, his insurance company, his campaign contributor Eddie Davers (Jack Warden) and an increasingly adoring public, all the while fearful of his impending assassination.
After a televised debate during which Bulworth drinks from a flask on air and derides insurance companies and the American health care system, he decides to hide at Nina's family's home, located in the South Central Los Angeles ghetto. While there, he wanders around the neighborhood, where he witnesses a group of kids selling crack. When the kids try to intimidate him into buying drugs from them, he instead buys the group ice cream. After saving the group from a racially motivated encounter with a police officer, he finds out they are "soldiers" of L.D. (Don Cheadle), a local drug kingpin to whom Nina's brother owes money. Bulworth eventually makes it to a television appearance arranged earlier by his campaign manager, during which he raps and repeats verbatim statements Nina and L.D. have told him about the lives of poor black people and their opinions of various American institutions, like education and employment. Eventually he offers the solution that "everybody should fuck everybody" until everyone is "all the same color" stunning the audience and his interviewer.
After Bulworth's TV appearance (at the end of which one mysterious assassination attempt occurs) he escapes with Nina and goes with her back to her house where she reveals that SHE is the assassin he indirectly hired (ostensibly to make the money needed to pay off the debt her brother owes to L.D.) and will now not carry out the job because she has fallen in love with him. Relieved, Bulworth falls asleep for the first time in days in Nina's arms. Bulworth sleeps deeply for over 36 hours (with Nina tenderly watching over him), during which time the media is abuzz about his mysterious absence on election day. During this time, various people are shown reacting to the TV coverage and the impact Bulworth's escapade is making on the political/social conversation in the country (race, poverty, inequity, greed). Bulworth wins the primary election by a landslide.
The next morning the press and Bulworth's campaign managers converge on Nina's house, all eager to talk to him. L.D. also comes to Nina's house and, having had a change of heart, says he will let Nina's brother work off his debt instead of hurting or killing him. Bulworth emerges from the bedroom looking rested and, as he steps outside, he invites Nina to go with him; she eventually joins him, after some hesitation. Bulworth and Nina embrace and begin to kiss as people cheer. As Bulworth happily accepts a new campaign for the presidency, he is suddenly shot in front of the crowd of reporters and supporters by Graham Crockett (Paul Sorvino), an agent of the insurance company lobbyists, who were fearful of Bulworth's recent push for single-payer health care. Crockett gets away while Bulworth lays motionless in the street surrounded by Nina, Dennis, L.D. and others.
Bulworth's fate is left ambiguous. The final scene shows an elderly vagrant, whom Bulworth met previously, standing alone outside a hospital. He exhorts Bulworth, who is presumably inside, to not be 'a ghost' but 'a spirit' which, as he had mentioned earlier, can only happen if you have 'a song'. In the final shot of the film, he asks the same of the audience.