Bruiser Movie Review

A revenge fantasy in the E.C. horror comics tradition, George A. Romero's Bruiser is about Henry Creedlow (Jason Flemyng, Snatch), a Joe Average company man whose anonymous working life has made him invisible to peers and loved ones. His wife has been using him for his upwardly mobile financial status while cheating behind his back. His co-worker and best buddy has been skimming the profits, secretly preventing Henry from earning his fair share. Worst of all is the boss, Miles Styles (Peter Stormare, Fargo), a loud, obnoxious boor who enjoys ritualistically humiliating everyone at board meetings -- a character so smirkingly piggish and cruel it's a wonder God hasn't struck him dead. Henry discovers that nice guys finish last, and when he wakes up one morning to discover his face has magically transformed into a featureless white mask, he uses the anonymity once used against him as a device for smooth, calculated vengeance against all who have done him wrong. It's The Invisible Man gone corporate.

Romero hasn't been able to get a feature film off the ground since 1993's The Dark Half, which is really too bad. He's one of the more distinctive filmmakers working within the horror genre, having made his start with the black-and-white classic Night of the Living Dead in 1968. That was a pioneer for modern horror as gruesome satire, followed up by the arguably superior Dawn of the Dead (where the zombie invasion was set against the backdrop of a shopping mall). Fans of Romero will be pleased to see him back to his old preoccupations. Bruiser could be viewed as an extension of the identity crisis in Martin, Romero's ambivalent portrait of a young man who may or may not be a vampire.

Bruiser isn't as subtle an allegory as Martin, whose disenfranchised Pittsburgh factory towns were closer to home for Romero, but it's briskly efficient in the early going. Even quite inspired when Henry fantasizes throwing commuters under a train, or blowing his brains out after an early morning shower. The evil daydreams merge into the banality of a single working day, suggesting the thinly veiled aggression of the office drone. Romero also makes full use of Henry's half-finished home. It's pretty broad (Henry's an incomplete human being, y'see) but allows for some strong visual choices. The dread of economic plight found in plastic tarp walls and exposed power tools feels reminiscent of Brad Anderson's similarly themed Session 9 (they'd make a terrific double-bill).

Some may wince at the over-the-top villains, and Peter Stormare does some particularly shameless scenery chewing, but Bruiser functions as a comic book. Watching the bad apples get their comeuppance is meant to be fun in the same way shifty fortune seekers got what was coming to them in Weird Tales. It's a morality play, or a 21st century Brothers Grimm fable. If Bruiser feels a little uneven, it's more because Romero backs himself into the corner of routine hunt 'n' slash set pieces. He's never been able to coordinate straight suspense, proving more adept at escalating dread and visceral gore (though Bruiser is surprisingly mild in its bloodletting). Romero's keen taste for atmosphere keeps the rickety ship afloat, combined with an inspired performance from Flemyng, who invests Henry with sensitivity and depth.

Less enjoyable is the bogged down finale at an elaborate masquerade (odd, since Romero used costume so well in the Dead films). This long sequence feels adrift at sea, spreading focus between the party denizens, pandering shots of the band (crummy lite-metal from The Misfits), an excruciatingly goofy kid running the laser light show, and Henry's rather pedestrian slaying of an arch-nemesis. There's an overreliance on phony looking computer animation, including fake bats swooping overhead and a character getting blasted by a giant laser beam. Yes, a giant laser. It's a comic book device that feels more ludicrous than inspired. And what's with the unforgivably campy epilogue? It's meant to imply that Henry's paleface legacy lives on in the workplace, but cops out with a cheap horror gag. When will frightflicks abandon the useless "surprise" postscript a la A Nightmare on Elm Street and I Know What You Did Last Summer in favor of some real closure?

Bruiser may be a lightweight in the Romero canon, but he's still able to deliver the goods. I'll take his genuine affection for horror iconography over the postmodern smugness of any Scream knock-off. Doomed with a straight-to-video fate, it's unlikely that Bruiser will be the push Romero needs to continue making his maverick blue-collar horror shows. But it's nice to see him working again.

Bruised and bloodied.


Bruiser Rating

" Good "

Rating: NR, 2000


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