Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bruised Ego: "Bruiser" (2001)

Almost a decade after his underrated adaptation of Stephen King's novel "The Dark Half", Romero finally returns to the director's chair with a lovely little suspenser that must make Wes "I want to branch out into other genres" Craven green with envy.

**This review contains major spoilers** Jason Flemyng is Henry, a put upon nobody who is treated like crap by his wife, Jeanine, and one of Romero's most vile creations- boss Miko, played with a lot of balls (literally, we get to see them) by Peter Stormare. Stormare is the pig who runs the magazine Bruiser, where Henry toils. Henry's best friend tries to calm him in relation to money, Henry's maid is stealing from him, even his wife's annoying little poodle hates him. One morning, Henry hears a listener shoot himself on a talk radio show. This event changes him. Henry likes to imagine what would happen if he killed himself, or pushed back against the world that is pushing him around.

For a company masquerade, Henry is fitted with a blank white mask that must be decorated. After he catches his wife with Miko, and she rejects him at home, Henry loses all sense of identity. He wakes up one morning, wearing a blank white mask he cannot remove, and begins acting on the murderous impulses against all the people who have been treating him like trash, or not noticing him at all. Henry kills his wife. Call in Tom Atkins, as the world weary detective we have seen a few too many times before. He believes Henry's wife was killed by Miko's estranged wife, Rosemary, who has a special bond with Henry in that it is one of the few normal relationships in his life.

As the police center on Rosemary, a faceless and murdering Henry prepares for the final set piece at the decadent masquerade ball, one of the weirdest parties ever put on film. Romero films this entire sequence with gutsy angles and a satisfying conclusion. The scares come in Henry's stalking of his victims, especially the scene at the tennis club, and the main question Romero asks and never answers: is Henry's mask real, or a figment of his twisted imagination?

This film could be considered a cousin to Joel Schumacher's "Falling Down," except in this case, Henry is not a somebody who is fed up with everyone, he is a nobody who becomes everyone's whipping boy- from his boss to his wife to his maid to his own best friend, who has been ripping off his accounts.

Some of the line readings here are off, but the main cast of characters more than make up for it, especially Stormare. Romero makes a very un-"Night of the Living Dead" and "Martin." His direction is so clean and modern, with a good jazz score highlighting Henry's perceived nonexistence in a crazed material world.

If you are seeking the Romero of the past, look elsewhere. This is not "Scream." Romero, who also wrote the screenplay, shows he does not have to stick to out and out gore, he can handle a psychological thriller very well. The video box cover makes this look like another "Friday the 13th" flick, with a silhouetted man with a knife that does not appear in the movie, but this is so much more. I think many of the negative reviews came from dashed expectations more than a reaction to Romero's change of pace. Romero has had some duds in the past, including the stupid "Monkey Shines," but I think this is one of his better efforts.

"Bruiser" went straight to video, and died, and that is unfortunate. It is better than most of the stuff currently in the theater, and you might want to seek it out after you pass the three hundred copies of "Shrek" at your video store. (* * * * *) out of five stars.