Monday, September 19, 2011

Psycho is a mess of a slasher

     He's rich, sophisticated, has an ivy-league education, exquisite taste in music and occasionally will blow off steam by committing voluntary manslaughter, all before his 6:30 dinner reservations, of course. That's the joke behind American Psycho: murderers lurk all around us, sometimes concealed in an upper-class, yuppie guise.

     The film is based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name and is set in the 1980s. Our protagonist here is Patrick Bateman (the name even sounds vanilla), played by Christian Bale (Batman movies). Patrick wakes up every morning, showers, and proceeds with his rigorous routine of moisturizing and man-pampering his chiseled, smooth face. He walks out of his pricey New York apartment, fresh-faced, clean cut and you might even say dressed to kill. On the outside he's a composed banking executive with a hot girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon); he's surrounded by shallow friends, who share his interest in the tangible and temporal; and enjoys listening to Phil Collins with a glass of wine. Some might say he has it together, but we all know that's his sly plan. Who would suspect a N.Y. businessman, obsessed with perfecting the font on his business card, of murder in the third degree?

     The film, directed by Mary Harron, starts off with potential. We're introduced to Bateman's character and how his life is structured around his routines, encounters with co-workers, his job and you quickly see how his shallow and repetitive life-style can invoke an alter-ego. But the process in which this two-dimensional character switches from normal New Yorker walking the streets during the day to malicious assassin during the night is just that: night and day.

      His first victim in the film is a homeless man on the street. Why was he the target? He was just there, apparently. We're given no background on Bateman, no formal motive, no clue as to why he commits these acts, we're just left to assume he was probably a disturbed youth who started out killing puppies and eventually switched to people. Not to mention, he's messy. You would think someone as orderly as Bateman would consider the mess he's about to spill on his expensive furniture, before he slaughters his victims on his couch. (Maybe Dexter can give him a lesson in murder 101?) At one point, he tries taking his bloody sheets to the cleaners and wonders why the stain won't come out.

      Bateman balances his two lives pretty well, until an investigator (Willem Dafoe) shows up in his office one day, asking where his friend Paul (Jared Letto) is. Paul came over to Bateman's apartment one evening and asked too many questions about his girlfriend and well, I'm sure you can figure out the rest. This is one of the few times his lethal actions are ever validated. The film is a mix of gory and disturbing slayings, intertwined with Bateman's equally disturbing sexcapades, one of which involves a three-some, a camera and reconstructive-surgery.

     As much as Bale is clearly committed to the role (and he certainly seems crazy), Psycho fails to connect the two worlds the film illustrates together and ultimately is more of a comedy than a drama. Right before he murders one of his victims, he seduces them, with spiked wine and shares his knowledge of Whitney Houston's greatest work. There's just nothing serious to take out of this adaptation and probably would have fared better if Harron had a clearer image. You're best off, reading the book.

Rating: D


  1. I thought that it was meant to be a Comedy. A Black Comedy. Great review anyway!

  2. Vits,

    Yes, I understand it was supposed to be this dark comedy on white, upper-middle class, but I didn't find it as funny. Sorry my review didn't communicate that. Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it.