Anything to keep from standing up for himself, right? Well, that's the opening of the 2000 thriller Bruiser, anyway. Yes, it's safe to say that writer/ director George A. Romero is back in full-on metaphor mode, albeit in a different form than his usual kind. While it's a bit of a stretch to feel TOO terribly bad for a guy that is, in essence, a rich yuppie, it's also hard not to identify with the nice guy for whom just about everything is going wrong, no matter how hard he tries.
Jason Flemyng brings us that creepshow we call Creedlow. He's a likeable enough guy, though he has been described as something of a world-class wuss. Things come to a head for him at a certain party thrown by his lecherous boss Milo Styles (Peter Stormare). On the bright side, he's surrounded by beautiful women. On the dark side one of them is his wife Janine (sexy Nina Garbiras, whom we see naked) and another is the boss' wife Rosemary Newley (Leslie Hope). While his wife is messing around with the Boss, the Boss' Wife is showing Henry a blank, expressionless mask that she made of a cast of his own face. Naturally for this buried soul, this is an instant metaphor for his dejected life.
So, after that rough night (spent alone, no less), Henry wakes up with his face literally gone. In its place is that same blank white mask with the pinhole eyes. Creepy? Yes and it's made more so by the fact that it appears to be perfectly grafted on and it moves with his jaw and muscles, just as his skin would. It even bleeds when he's cut... and no matter what, it won't come off. Amazingly Creepy!
Emboldened by his forced-anonymity, Henry becomes the very portrait of a Serial Killer, but with a distinct purpose... he only kills those who have wronged him. Each death gives him the briefest of glimpses of the man behind the mask.
All the while Detective McCleary (Tom Atkins) is hot on the trail of the killer as he cuts a swath through his enemies. Working in Henry's favor, however, is the fact that he really isn't a suspect. How could he be? He's the world's biggest wuss! The prime suspect is the cuckolded (almost ex-) wife of Boss-Man Styles, Rosemary. These varied elements have to converge somewhere and that where is, of course, another party complete with a (post Danzig) performance by The Misfits!
That climax is a long time coming, however, as Henry becomes more and more determined. Strangely, as he gets deeper into his quest he doesn't seem to get crazier, but somehow more sane. Not that he LOOKS terribly sane, however! As scary as the living white mask is, Henry actually begins to follow Rosemary's suggestion for personalizing the mask and paints it in varied garish colors before becoming a strange and marauding version of the Phantom of the Opera. Make no mistake, Henry looks very cool in this, especially at his most chilling! The nine crewmembers of the Makeup Department surely earned their checks here.
So did Costume Designer Alina Panova, especially during that amazing costume party scene. This scene, by the way, adds Romero kids Tina and Andrew Romero to the list of Cameos here, which also includes George's wife Christine Forrest, naked Kiran Friesen and even Serenity's Yan Feldman.
Surprisingly, for all its inventive nature, Bruiser remains a very underrated and underappreciated Romero film. It's possible that this is because this is not the standard fare that Romero is famed for. There's no question that I'm only one of millions out there who are huge fans of the George Romero Zombie flicks that started with Night of the Living Dead. Bruiser is not that kind of film. In fact, Romero has made all kinds of different films in and outside of the horror genre. He's rightfully associated with Zombie flicks because he revolutionized that subgenre. Take a look at his Filmography and you'll see he's hardly been redefined by the genre he defined.
Then again, there are those who just might not buy into the premise of Bruiser. The core element here is the replacement of our main character's face with a rubber mask. How and why this happens remains just about as unexplained as how and why it vanishes later. Sure from a metaphorical standpoint the audience gets it, but there's no real explanation for what the hell is behind all this. Those who would latch onto this complaint might well be missing the point. After all, even Romero's Zombie films aren't exactly "about" zombies.
Still there is a lot asked of the audience and if they don't buy in quick they might not at all. Further, there are a few moments of forced acting here. At his most emotional, Flemyng's generally flawless American accent gives way to his natural British. That's nothing compared to Peter Stormare's gleeful overacting. It's hard to really point that out as a flaw, seeing as how in virtually every movie he's in Stormare manages to steal the show with his wild and crazy antics. Hell, half the time Stormare's overacting is a selling point in a film. The point is, either you're going to buy into it or you won't... unlike AIG stock.
Bruiser isn't a bad film at all, actually, which makes it all that much more a shame that it's overlooked so often (and that it was released straight to video in the USA). This isn't your standard horror flick, especially from George A. Romero. There's nothing as evil as, say, a Bengal Kitten in this movie (trust me, if you've been around them, you'll realize that is not sarcasm) and while there is a lot of death and murder in this picture, it's not exactly a slasher or splatter flick. It's just a cool horror mystery with an unlikely twist that shouldn't be missed.
Three and One Half Stars out of Five for George A. Romero's Bruiser. If you've ever wanted to stick it to your evil, undeserving boss, if you've ever seen a sleazy guy with a hot chick and just got pissed off, if you've ever been stolen from, especially by people you thought were your friends and you've just itched to bitch-slap the holy crap out of them, if you've ever been cheated on and wanted to get even, let Henry do the bruising for you, kids. There's something uniquely satisfying about watching him work. And that goes for Romero as well. Yeah, G to the A to the R hasn't let me down yet. So until Bruiser 2: The Armageddon can't get greenlit unless Romero shoves a gaggle of out-of-place Zombies, Fulci-like right into the middle of the damned thing (each one wearing a featureless rubber mask) I'll see you in the next spineless, faceless, invisible, homicidal reel!
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