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Bruiser
cast: Jason Flemyng, Peter Stormare, Andre Tarbet and Nina Garbiras

director: George A. Romero

99 minutes (R) 2001
Lion's Gate
DVD Region 1 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Octavio Ramos Jr
George Romero first crossed paths with Italian giallo man Dario Argento during the creation of Dawn Of The Dead (1979). For the American release of that film, Argento served as a script consultant and co-producer (and his music buddies the Goblins provided a soundtrack); Argento also created his own cut of the film, which was released in Europe. The two men worked together again on 1991's Two Evil Eyes (two stories inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe). With Bruiser, Romero pays homage to Argento (and other European directors, such as Jess Franco) by creating a stylised story with several set pieces of unblinking violence and horror.
   Jason Flemyng (Snatch) is Henry Creedlow, an editor who works for a style-over-substance magazine known as 'Bruiser' (a title suggested by Romero's daughter Tina - its equivalents are cool or gnarly - who also appears later in the movie as a go-go dancer). Poor Creedlow is so mild-mannered that everyone else uses him as a footpad: his wife (played by Nina Garbiras with all the bitchiness she can muster) wants more money and makes no qualms about having an affair with his boss, his best friend (an effectively subtle performance by Andre Tarbet) is slowly ripping him off by skimming profits from investments, and his boss (played to the hilt by Peter Stormare) lets him know that his "taste is all in his ass."
   Overwhelmed by all the hate and manipulation around him, Creedlow begins to break down, at first fantasising about suicide and later waking up to discover that his face has been replaced with an immovable white mask. Having become an 'invisible' man, Creedlow sets off to exact revenge upon those who have done him wrong. The film climaxes at a masquerade ball with none other than the Misfits (get it?) playing at the event.
   Romero's talent as a storyteller serves his well here because, even though Bruiser is not one of his best efforts, he manages to create a compelling story and draw credible performances from his cast. In developing his theme of style-over-substance, Romero succumbs to the theme itself, and in the end the story collapses under its own irony and sarcasm. Although the theme itself resonates deeply in a society filled with people who are really like this (the comic strip Dilbert is popular for a reason), having Creedlow serve as an avenging 'Batman' (the point is clearly emphasized in the shocker coda) minimises the impact of the story.
   Other films creep into Bruiser, and these should prove interesting to horror movie buffs. Creedlow's murder of his wife hearkens to Argento's Suspiria, particularly the hanging sequence. The press naming Creedlow 'Faceless' reminds me of Jess Franco's work, from 1962's The Awful Dr Orlof to 1988's Faceless. And there are even sequences in which Creedlow calls a radio talk show to discuss his situation, thereby reminding us of Romero's own Martin.
   Because of these and other scenes, I believe that Romero is using the European approach in filming horror to strengthen his theme of modern society's obsession with style over substance. Romero's 'wink' to Italian cinema may go unnoticed, given that many modern critics like their films spoon-fed to them, but horror aficionados will snicker at Romero's wit and cynicism.
   As a horror film, Bruiser is relatively tame, with the violence highly stylised and the gore kept to a minimum. Although the film can be categorised with the likes of Martin and Monkey Shines, the terror quotient in Bruiser is also minimal. As a result, the film is more of an allegory that collapses under its own acerbity. Bottom line: rent the film before buying it.
   The US DVD comes with a commentary track (featuring director Romero), a fun Misfits video titled 'Scream' (from the band's CD Famous Monsters), which is filmed in black and white and hearkens to the days of Night Of The Living Dead, and a theatrical trailer (this extra is hidden; to access and view it, clear the extras menu so that nothing is highlighted then press 'enter' on your remote).
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