With only a few Romero films left, today I review BRUISER, the director’s return after a 7-year layoff. The rust shows, but at least the flick sports Tom Atkins.
Between 1993 and 2000, George Romero released not a single film. Making more money than he ever had in his career but not making films, Romero was stuck in studio Hell, developing projects that never went before the camera. Finally able to flee, Romero headed north to Canada and put together his comeback, BRUISER. Though some of Romero’s trademarks are present, the film marks a weak return for a former master.
The film follows Henry Creedlow, a real wimp. Everybody in his life steps on him, to the point where, when he walks in on his wife giving his boss a handjob at a party, he watches meekly. Because of his weakness, his life is falling apart and his mind is starting to unwind; he starts having fantasies of himself committing violence against those who push him around. Waking up the morning after the party, he finds his face replaced by a white mask, devoid of any features. Free from his identity (and any sense of sanity), Creedlow begins taking vengeance on those who’ve mistreated him.
There are two vast differences between BRUISER and Romero’s earlier work, one technical and one geographical. A trend he started with MONKEY SHINES, Romero’s camera moves all over the place. Gone are the quick cuts on which he relied so heavily to created pacing, and in their place, long shots and more conventional editing. I’m genuinely disappointed that Romero has resorted to this, because his editing style from his earlier career made his films stand out. At least MONKEY SHINES was shot in the Pittsburgh area. With BRUISER, Romero started another trend I don’t like, by filming it in Canada. The Pennsylvania countryside, a staple in his earlier films, is a thing of the past. Any longtime Romero fan will notice this gives BRUISER a different feel from every previous entry in his catalogue.
Where Romero certainly fulfills his legacy is in BRUISER’s social commentary. As a writer, he tackles a topic with which we all can relate: identity. Unable to remove the mask, Creedlow is suffering from a loss of identity. But it’s a self he never really wanted, so the loss actually does him a favor. It frees him. Unhindered by all the social strictures that having a face entails, he can act on pure id. There’s a thread about Creedlow’s house being renovated, as is his existence, albeit radically.
If only BRUISER had lived up to its concept, it would have been a much more interesting film. It’s about 30 minutes in before he wakes up with the mask, and the buildup is a bit dull. It doesn’t help that Jason Flemyng is bland in the lead. His acting never really sells that he’s losing it. Most of the other actors don’t do much to help, with Peter Stormaire acting like a rich eccentric as Creedlow’s boss providing the only personality. The only one jazzing up the film is Tom Atkins, a solid genre presence who provides a handsome masculinity and sexy moustache as only Atkins can. But even he can’t turn this film around. There’s a really great film in BRUISER’s concept, but Romero’s writing isn’t up to its usually sharp standard.
It would be another five years before Romero’s next film would hit theatres. With LAND OF THE DEAD, the director returned to comfortable territory with zombies and was back in full form. BRUISER, however, is a bump in the road that brought the director back to the screen, but not to the level of quality his many fans expect.