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Bruiser (2001)
Writer and director: George A. Romero

review by Tony Lee

In Peter Bogdanovich's Mask (1985), there's an affecting scene where the facially disfigured Rocky (Eric Stoltz) is employed at a summer camp for blind teenagers. A supervisor tells him to 'take his mask off', and Rocky's entirely characteristic quip generates of brief moment of potentially cringe-worthy embarrassment for all concerned. This psychological thriller by genre maestro Romero, the maker of a widely acclaimed 'zombie' trilogy and much else besides, also explores metaphors of loss of identity, but presents us with a nightmare scenario where the protagonist's face is hidden by a blank white mask that cannot be removed.

Mild-mannered Henry Creedlow (British actor Jason Flemyng - from Snatch, and David Twohy's Below) works on a style-over-content magazine called 'Bruiser', and is a convenient doormat for his repulsively overbearing and thoroughly obnoxious boss Milo (Peter Stormare, from Minority Report, Windtalkers). Betrayed by his glamorous wife Janine (leggy Nina Garbiras, from TV's Boomtown, making her feature-film debut), and by his best friend and financial advisor, Henry contemplates suicide until after waking up the next morning with a fixed mask (resembling that of Michael Myers in the Halloween franchise). Thinking and feeling that he's become a social outcast, Henry embarks on a murder spree as a seemingly faceless killer. However, despite his apparent hate crimes there's a chance at redemption for our vengeful antihero, as photojournalist colleague Rosie (Leslie Hope, who played Jack Bauer's doomed wife in TV series 24) becomes the unwitting heroine of this tragedy, and sympathetic homicide cop McCleary (veteran Tom Atkins) leads the investigation with a view to allowing poetic justice to take its course...

Bruiser is an enjoyable black comedy of errors boasting a ferocious critique of the corporate yuppie mindset. It's a fable of empowerment via anonymity, with fleeting horrors (particularly in Henry's wildly violent daydreams) and some wryly-seriocomic interludes. Like Michael Douglas' nerdy D-Fens in Falling Down (1993), Henry is the ordinary guy pushed far beyond his tolerance limits, who reacts with a psychotic rampage. His Billy Liar styled dark fantasies become horrifying reality and his almost deranged rage increases rather than diminishing as the bodycount rises. The drama ends with a masquerade party where outlandish costumes reveal, instead of disguising, the various characters' hidden selves. Quirkily reminiscent of Abel Ferrara's Ms .45 (aka: Angel Of Vengeance, 1980) and Larry Cohen's Special Effects (1984), the intriguing Bruiser cannily updates the image-conscious themes of its cinematic predecessors with cynical wit and considerable ingenuity.

At time of writing still unreleased in the UK, Bruiser is available from the USA as a region-free disc (not region 1 as some online shops advertise), in widescreen format (aspect ratio 1.85:1) with Dolby digital 2.0 surround stereo sound, English and Spanish subtitles, and a trailer. There's also a commentary track by George Romero and co-producer Peter Grunwald, and the music video (shot mainly in b/w with splashes of red gore, and reportedly directed by Romero) for Scream by the Misfits, who appear on stage during the film's bloody finale.
Bruiser

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