Trimark // R // $24.99 // October 9, 2001
Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 3, 2001
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Writer/director George Romero began his career with what is unarguably among the most important horror films ever put to celluloid, 1968's Night of the Living Dead. It's nearly impossible to follow up such a seminal work with any level of consistency, and Romero's career in the thirty-plus years since Night has only erratically displayed the sort of brilliance of his debut. I'd personally rank most of Romero's work, including Creepshow, Knightriders, and Monkey Shines, as ranging from "okay, I guess" to "pretty good", with only Martin and the indescribably phenomenal Dawn of the Dead standing out among the others. An unremarkable track record and a slew of negative reviews didn't have me expecting much from Bruiser, Romero's first film since 1993's The Dark Half. After sitting on the shelf for an inordinate amount of time and bypassing a domestic theatrical release entirely, Lion's Gate has at long last given the underrated Bruiser a very respectable release on DVD.

Jason Flemyng stars as Henry Creedlow, an employee of some unknown capacity at a hopelessly trendy fashion rag. There's nothing remarkable at all about Henry, who's entirely dismissed by everyone associated with him in any capacity. His disappointed wife, who married Henry thinking he was on his way up in the world, is screwing around with his obnoxious, overbearing boss Miles (Peter Stormare), and his best friend has secretly been skimming tens of thousands of dollars from Henry's investments. There's nothing about distinguishing Henry from anyone else in the world, and after awaking the morning following a tumultuous party, his face reflects that anonymity. All of Henry's facial features have disappeared, covered by what appears to be an unremovable blank white mask. Seizing this as the perfect opportunity to bring his revenge fantasies to fruition, Henry almost immediately seeks vengeance against everyone who'd screwed him over.

Bruiser has its flaws. Peter Stormare is hopelessly over the top, transcending the sort of arrogant dick Miles is supposed to be and venturing headfirst into cartoon territory. The epilogue ends with the sort of laughably predictable sting that had me wiggling my fingers at the screen in mock-menace, evident that Romero's distaste for the current crop of by-the-numbers slashers is apparently limited to their first 88 minutes. Actually, backing up even before that, Miles' party as a whole is a disappointment, and the philandering host's telegraphed demise stems from as ridiculous an instrument of revenge as humanly conceivable. So, okay, the conclusion is decidedly uneven, but Bruiser still has plenty going for it. The performances are uniformly excellent, and Flemyng infuses Henry with enough character that he doesn't seem like the shat-upon, one note, revenge-crazed loon one might expect from a direct-to-video flick. Its low budget origins never shine through, particularly with respect to set design. Makeup effects are convincing, despite the near-total lack of gore, and Henry's mask looks far better on-screen than in any of the production stills floating around online. Perhaps Romero's greatest gift is his ability to build atmosphere, and that is certainly in full effect in Bruiser. The end result, while imperfect, is still a rather solid film, shifting the focus more towards the psychological than scattered grue.

Video: Though Bruiser didn't see theatrical release stateside, its 1.85:1 aspect ratio is maintained nonetheless. The anamorphic image is rather nice, particularly when taking the film's modest budget and the fact that Bruiser was never meant to have an overly glossy, razor-sharp appearance into consideration. As is to be expected from such a recent film, there aren't any print flaws that warrant a mention, though dust and the like appear incrementally more frequently than usual. The level of grain is neither unusual nor distracting, only really noticeable for a few moments early on while Henry's in a steamy bathroom. Colors appear natural and accurately saturated, and black levels are spot on. Detail and contrast both exceeded my expectations. Nice work from Lion's Gate.

Audio: The stereo surround audio is decent enough. The mix is heavily anchored towards the front, with an infrequent flicker of surround activity from time to time. The real star of the audio is Donald Rubenstein's wonderful and atmospheric jazzy score, which comes through beautifully. Dynamic range is acceptable, though unremarkable, and there is no hiss or distortion to mar the presentation. I have to admit to being a bit surprised that a film produced in 2000 wasn't given the full 6-channel treatment. Even a pretty hefty portion of direct-to-video flicks sport Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks anymore. I'm hard-pressed to come up with much else to say, so I suppose I'll mention the English and Spanish subtitles and leave it at that.

Supplements: The Misfits, who appear in the film and contribute a few songs to the soundtrack, also turn up as the undead in the Romero-helmed music video for "Scream". Along with the traditional Trimark/Lion's Gate hidden trailers is a commentary track from Romero and producer Peter Grunwald. I've enjoyed what few interviews I've read with Romero (most recently in a lengthy Bruiser chat in Fango #200), as well as the commentary on Tales From The Darkside: The Movie, even though the track was dominated by director John Harrison. Grunwald and Romero are every bit as entertaining here, offering countless hilarious stories, with technical notes peppered throughout. The sort of criticism laid upon Tales From The Darkside is noticeably absent here, but perhaps not enough time has passed for Grunwald or Romero to form such opinions about Bruiser. The commentary is definitely worth a listen and its presence makes recommending this disc as a purchase over a rental quite a bit easier.

Conclusion: Bruiser isn't Romero's finest work, and its final moments are absurdly stupid. Still, it's proof positive that he has what it takes to churn out a reasonably effective film among drek like Scream 3 and Soul Survivors. With an adaptation of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon in the wings, it would appear that any lengthy delay between movies isn't in the cards in the foreseeable future. Bruiser is worth recommending on its own, but its presentation on DVD courtesy of Lion's Gate and availability online for as low as $18.59 shipped don't hurt matters any. Recommended.

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