-Written by Greg Burrowes
Henry Creedlow (Jason Flemyng) has a lot in common with Patrick Bateman. The two men are successful in their mutual careers, both maintain a rigorous fitness and beauty regime and both fantasies about murdering women in various ways. While Bateman quite fancies throwing chainsaws at prostitutes, Henry prefers pushing ladies heads under the wheels of a moving train. The only major difference between the two is that Henry most definitely does kill. Whereas Bateman displays some nasty sociopathic tendencies that are hard to identify with to say the least, you kinda feel like Henry’s tormentors have it coming. Even though he works for a chic fashion magazine (called Bruiser), has an enormous house and a nice car, no one shows the guy any respect. His wife (Leslie Hope) mocks his shortcomings incessantly, his best buddy James (Andrew Tarbet) is a yuppie slime ball who may or may not be ripping him off and his boss (Peter Stormare) could easily be rated as one of the scuzziest characters put on celluloid. But Henry is a trooper, he soaks up all the insults directed his way and continues to work hard. However as the old adage goes, you can only push a man so far and Henry is no exception to this archaic rule.
When, at a fancy barbecue, Henry catches his wife in a compromising situation with the ass pinching, coke snorting Milo, his ability to keep himself in control starts to crumble. When he confronts his wife about her blatant infidelity on the drive home, she merely mocks him with even more gusto. But Henry still keeps his cool (he only imagines taking an axe to her cranium). The next morning, during his normal pre-work rituals he notices that his face has disappeared and a white, blank, expressionless mask has taken its place. And if this wasn’t enough, he walks in on his klepto housemaid flagrantly stealing the silverware, and christ almighty, that is the last straw. Henry has had enough. And what follows is a series of bloody, yet surprisingly restrained (compared to Romero’s traditionally gory oeuvre) revenge set pieces.
Bruiser is a paranoid modern fantasy that has universal appeal, I mean show me a guy or girl who doesn’t fantasise about butchering their jerk-off boss, mocking spouse or bad mannered member of the public that rams past you whilst getting onto the bus. Nontheless, the biggest problem with Bruiser is that once Frank finally loses his rag (and his face) and decides that its time for vengeance, the flick essentially has nowhere left to go, and so Romero resorts to throwing silly twists and turns into what is at heart a pretty standard and predictable revenge narrative.
Coupled with this, Romero’s social commentary is a little on the nose in this one. ‘You gotta fight to be somebody’ and ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’ are worthy messages in of themselves, but the whole concept of a character literally disappearing because no one bothers to take any notice of them is quite ham fisted, a little like a particularly preachy episode of The Twilight Zone. However, Romero does address the fact that Henry is potentially a pretty unlikable protagonist. Henry wishes to ‘become’ somebody by slaughtering those who have done him wrong and systematically fucked him over, but Romero tempers this relentless blood lust by letting Henry retain his ability to know where to draw the line. After the now blank faced Henry confronts his cheating wife and proceeds to do something rather unorthodox with an extension cord, his chubby, jovial coworker Tom strolls into the empty board room. Henry promises to let Tom survive if he pledges not to snitch to the cops. And lo and behold, one night whilst peeping on Tom getting serviced in his hot tub by the latest Bruiser mag cover girl, he refrains from taking a bullet to Tom’s head when he realises that he is indeed someone that can be trusted.
The film’s denouement goes bat shit crazy in a fetish club complete with carrot stick hors d’oeuvres made to look like fingers (oh, those edgy goths!) and even The Misfits make an appearance playing out of sync to their songs on the soundtrack. Henry arrives in a black cloak and fedora with the intent of taking out Milo in a fittingly grandiose style, that involves lasers. In fact, the climax of the film feels like a sort of odd Darkman riff.
Romero’s dialogue is razor-sharp for the most part (with the exception of the Canadian cops who seem to think that they are characters from a hard-boiled noir flick, they use the word ‘dame’ in every second sentence) and Jason Flemyng does a good job at portraying the wealthy walkover Henry. Sometimes his wife Rosemary is a little too darn mean to be believable, I dunno maybe hes just a bit of a masochist or something. Nonetheless, masochist or not, Henry does have it rough and his killing spree is cathartic to say the least. And in this vein Flemyng is convincing as the nice guy who has been pushed over the edge. Special credit should be directed his way for the fact that he has to remain credible while looking like a poker-faced mime but he somehow manages to pull it off. Peter Stormare has a ball as the skeezy magazine owner, hamming it up and chewing the scenery at every opportunity. When he’s not flashing his balls to a packed board room full of suits, hes rubbing his erect penis on one of his employees wives. This flick is quite forgettable and the light blue palette of the film’s design adds a kind of bland aesthetic to the proceedings. In directing his darkly humorous eye towards the vacuous, money driven world of, ehem publishing, Romero creates a group of greedy, corrupt grotesques who are relentlessly rotten in their behaviour. Even if the characters feel like caricatures from time to time, the film does point a finger at those yuppies who believe in nothing but wealth and material and don’t care who they step on to get what they want. This movie is certainly worth a watch, but when placed beside the other groundbreaking genre outings within Romero’s legendary filmography, Bruiser is merely a quirky footnote.