Bruiser (George Romero, 2000)
[originally posted 30Nov2001]
George Romero and the Hollywood mainstream have been making moves towards compromise for almost thirty years now. Romero’s been getting less graphic in relation to the rest of the world, and the rest of the world has been getting more graphic in relation to him. Because of this, it should be no surprise to anyone that some of the purists (actually, quite a few of them) have labelled Romero a sellout or worse, leading to the commercial failures of Monkey Shines (a fine movie) and The Dark Half (a… not so fine movie), and Romero’s subsequent self-removal from the film world for seven long years. He returns with Bruiser, a film which never received theatrical distro in the United States. Thankfully, someone at Lion’s Gate had the sense to at least put the VHS and DVD out over here in preparation for Romero’s first bonafide blockbuster, an adaptation of King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon due out in 2002. [ed. note 2014: we still haven’t seen it.]
Bruiser is another slice of Romero’s favorite pie—an examination of the role of the outcast in a satirized version of society. Twenty years ago, Romero enjoyed forcing his point home with buckets of gore, but he’s grown up a little these days and gone out on a limb. Bruiser is, for the most part, gore-free, leaving us to ask ourselves whether Romero’s filmmaking style alone is enough to make Bruiser as relevant as Knightriders, as savage as Dawn of the Dead, and/or as heartbreaking as Martin. My answer, after a few days of reflection, is a qualified yes.
I say “qualified” because, while the subject matter is unmistakably Romero, the style of direction here is just as unquestionably Argento. This is a giallo film without the violence and with more of a backing story; Romero has replaced the gore with Argento’s operatic, sweeping style of filmmaking. So the gimmick hasn’t disappeared as much as it has changed.
In the new episode of Pie a la George, Everyman, known here as Henry Creedlow (Jason Flemyng, late of From Hell and every Guy Ritchie film ever made), wakes up one morning and realizes two things: a. he’s losing it, and b. he may have never had it in the first place. Henry Creedlow’s first morning as these revelations come to him is filled with fantasies of violent things he’d like to do to himself and others (cf. Jennifer Connelly’s forking of Sean Gullette in Requiem for a Dream last year). While this is happening, he comes to realize that no one he knows actually thinks about him in anything more than a surface way, including his boss Miles (Peter Stormare, of Chocolat, 8MM, Playing God, et [many] al.), his wife Janine (Nina Garbiras, recently of the short-lived TV series “The $treet,” who bears more than a passing resemblance to the “dream girl” in Argento’s Tenebre), and his high school chum/stockbroker James (Andrew Tarbet, known for The Famous Jett Jackson). The two revelations eventually coalesce to turn Henry into something of a nasty bent-on-being-noticed sociopath.
Many reviews of the film seem to be panning it for relative lack of acting skills; I didn’t see it that way at all. Some characters come off as artificial, but they’re supposed to be, a la Argento or (as an even better example) Joe Mantegna in Mamet’s House of Games. It’s all part of the satire. this isn’t, thankfully, society as we know it; just as the shopping mall zombies of Dawn of the Dead were American consumer culture, the shallow husks we are handed here are Hollywood power-structure culture. They’re no less mindless for not being caked with blue makeup and covered with the blood of their recent meals.
Bruiser is definitely worth a look, especially if seven years of Romerolessness have had you climbing the walls. While its lack of groundbreaking psyche-related revelations don’t put it in the same class as Dawn of the Dead or Martin, it’s good, solid filmmaking. *** ½