Magazine article The Spectator

Running on Empty

Magazine article The Spectator

Running on Empty

Article excerpt

American Psycho

(18, selected cinemas)

American Psycho is being touted as an anti-adaptation: This is not your father's American Psycho. No, sir. Bret Easton Ellis's 1991 reviled bestseller about the murderous Patrick Bateman may have been a hymn to male blood lust, but that was before Lions Gate Films got hold of it. It's still about a male psychopath who likes taking the chainsaw to his chicks but it's directed by a feminist and co-written by a lesbian. So that's okay.

I don't wish to imply that Lions Gate is just ass-covering: the Sapphist Guinevere Turner (who did Go Fish a few years back) turns in a neat cameo as a snotty sophisticate inveigled by Bateman into a three-way with a shopworn hooker. And I've enjoyed Mary Harron's work since the days when we were both passing through BBC New York, when she was producing The Late Show and I was hosting whatever that show was called I used to do before the bastards sacked me. Anyway, the gals neatly acknowledge our expectations of the source material and declare their own departure from it during the opening credits.

Small, precise droplets of blood fall on to a clinical white background, as the camera slowly pulls back to reveal that we are, in fact, watching a raspberry coulis being drizzled around a duck breast for one of the absurdly minimalist entrees at some Eighties eatery. A pair of preening `servers' are offering the specials of the day - `swordfish meatloaf with onion marmalade', etc. Miss Harron may be `uncomfortable' with the pornography of violence, but she lingers pornographically over everything else, starting with the entrees. We first see Bateman and his fellow Wall Street twentysomethings round a table, though, being paranoid about seating and reservations, they know it's not the best one.

I gather David Cronenberg eventually passed on the film because he couldn't figure out how to match Ellis when it came to conveying the sheer terror Bateman feels when someone walks into the room with a better haircut. Miss Harron does that side of things brilliantly. Various squeamish corporations prevented the film from matching the book's brand-names-per-page quotient - in the novel, Bateman complains in mid-snort about his cocaine: `This is fucking Sweet 'n' Low!'; in the movie, the brand's gone and it's just saccharine. But, as a result, the movie works a little harder at the broader tones and moods, and winds up capturing time and place far more effectively than the relentless product placement of most novels.

This American Psycho is supposedly a satire of the Decade of Greed, an everpopular subject with people the world over who still feel angry at having been denied another ten years of Jimmy Carter and Jim Callaghan. No one is likely to come away from this film struck by its novel insights, unless you're one of the two or three remaining people on the planet not yet acquainted with the theory that the Eighties were an orgy of materialism. But it does make you wish that those idiots who gave Bonfire of the Vanities to Brian De Palma had saved it for Miss Harron instead.

In essence, it's a chicks' film with guys. Contrary to the myths about the gruelling trading hours from sun-up to sundown, Harron and Turner show us a world where men have endless hours for gossip and narcissistic trivialities, beginning with a brilliant introduction to Bateman as he applies in strict sequence his dozens of daily balms and ointments and cleansing gels. …

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