Sunday, May 16, 2010

"American Psycho" - Less Than Zero?

Every now and then, you watch a movie that captivates you, but even as you're watching, you’re not sure exactly what it is that you’re seeing. When the movie ends, you say to yourself (or out loud, in this case), “what the f*ck was that!?”

Mary Harron’s “American Psycho” is such a movie. One thing you can’t call it is dull. Considered on their own, nearly every scene has a kind of weird, manic energy, whether it’s the rich young assholes at the firm where Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) works comparing their new business cards, Bateman walking us through his exercise and skin-cleansing regime, or Bateman chasing an unfortunate victim down the hall with a chainsaw (I kid you not). Yep, this movie has energy.

But what does it all mean? Damned if I know. And truth be told, I’m not sure I care enough to try and figure it out. I’m frankly surprised that critics like Roger Ebert and James Berardinelli liked it as much as they did; the whole enterprise struck me as pretty nihilistic – not unlike the film made from “Psycho” author Bret Easton Ellis’ first novel, “Less Than Zero.” I never read “American Pyscho,” but if the quotes from Bateman that we hear in the film are taken directly from the book (and they sound like they might be), then I’d say that it takes a little more than just stringing together a bunch of words that sound good to make a good novel.

I also don’t know what to think of Christian Bale’s performance. It’s definitely flashy, but is it good acting? I’ll leave that to someone who knows more about acting than I do. Son #2 informs me that Bale was playing it for laughs, and in a way he succeeded, but even then I’m not sure why he decided that it made sense to sound almost exactly like Brent Spiner’s Data (from Star Trek: TNG) in those moments right before he was going to be wielding an axe onto someone’s head – or something worse. There's genuinely funny, and then there's just silly. But I will admit that the musical commentary - particularly about Huey Lewis and Phil Collins - was genuinely funny.

And then there was the “surprise” ending, which didn’t even register with me until I read Berardinelli’s review. Well, OK…I suppose that the whole thing could have been a fantasy in the head of Patrick Bateman. After all, it’s not as if the chainsaw sequence was terribly realistic. So I suppose it’s possible. But in the end, I don’t really care one way or another. Overall, “American Psycho” had its moments, but taken as a whole, it was pretty darn close to being less than zero.

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