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American Psycho

Rated [R]
Starring Christian Bale
Screenplay by Guinevere Turner and Mary Harron
Based on the book by Bret Easton Ellis
Directed by Mary Harron

IN SHORT: Killer comedy. Killer creepshow. Killer indie arthouse flick.

It will probably help your appreciation of American Psycho if you hit the ground running during the 1980s, or were close to the kind of yuppie mentality that was oppressive during those days -- kidlets just out of college making way too much money and spending that cash freely and openly on status stuff. The right kind of suit, tie, eyeglass frame, luggage and so forth. All flash and little substance. The stereotype that generated catcalls of "DIE YUPPIE SCUM DIE!" (Understand here that Cranky was a director for NBC back in them days, making way too much money at way too young an age . . .

. . . but good God, it was nothing like the Wall Street buttholes that are center stage in American Psycho.)

Perhaps it's a good thing there's a whole lot of breathing room between now and then. That makes this story of a serial killer to whom DIE YUPPIE SCUM DIE is a manifestation of incredible self-hatred and/or guilt -- and/or just another career choice - all the more bearable.

American Psycho so perfectly recreates that 80s Yuppie bullshit that, despite the fact that it's been well publicized as being about a serial killer, the film is very funny. From the title credits on out, where what appear to be droplets of blood fall across a virgin white screen, this flick is killer funny. Four lookalike Yuppie's drop their platinum cards to split the dinner check at an ever so trendy restaurant. Their conversation consist of vainglorious egocentric boasts, one after another (when they're not dissing anyone not like them, or backstabbing fellow employees at the Wall Street firms where they work).

Center of the story is Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a Wall Street type working for Dad, making insane amounts of money and doing very little obvious work. When in the process of picking up a model type at a trendy club, Bateman is asked what line he's in. "Murders and Executions," he says, quite honestly. "Mergers and Acquisitions" is what the meat hears. That's the perfect slam on 80s yuppie-dom. If it ain't about the green, it ain't never gonna be picked up on the internal radar. Welcome to the morgue . . .

Bateman carefully details for us every aspect of his life, from the number of stomach crunches he can do to the kind of exfoliant he uses to keep his skin looking young and fresh. He lives in a world where the printing on a business card speaks volumes. Where he doesn't mind taking his sexual fantasies out on street hookers and "high class" call girls, sometimes two at a time. Where he believes that his fiancee Evelyn Williams (Reese Witherspoon) is probably having an affair, which is all right 'cuz he's sleeping with her zonked to the gills best friend Courtney (Samantha Mathis). There's something perversely funny about all of this, which makes American Psycho a very funny movie.

Just when you begin to get the comfortable with the notion that the "Psycho" of the title refers only to a headcase slash nutjob, out comes a knife and a homeless man goes down for the count. Bateman doesn't restrict his kills to the anonymous street folk, however. One side effect of yuppie-dom is that everyone tended to look alike . . . and Bateman does not like being confused for someone higher on the corporate food chain. His bloodlust is such that he doesn't mind taking out people in his own circle. Prior to the upper-class kills, Bateman spouts like a music critic, analyzing the complexities and deep meanings in songs by Phil Collins and Whitney Houston -- artists disdained by the general 80s Yuppie establishment (even as we bought the CDs and hid them under the mattress). When Bateman goes into his spiel, well, certain characters you'll meet you won't want to see snuffed. Mary Harron's direction evokes some unbearable tension, even as the modus operandi elevates from knife to ax to industrial strength construction equipment, and so on.

You know in your guts that it's just a matter of time before the killing spree catches up to Bateman. When it does; let's just say that "Psycho" has a lot of meanings, all of which you may find yourself discussing after the fact. Also of note in the cast are Chloe Sevigny as Bateman's secretary Jean and Jared Leto as Paul Allen, one of those other yuppies who disappears from view. A private detective (Willem DaFoe) comes a calling. It's just a question of whether he's in the case to find a killer, or if he's in the case to protect the upper-upper-class from embarrassment in the New York Post.

There's a third alternative answer to this equation . . . but that would be telling.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to American Psycho, he would have paid...


Cranky bought in whole hog. American Psycho is so perfect for the arthouse circuit that it may not break out of that after the first week. As written, if you don't lock into the period, you may not find much to laugh about and, in that case, it's a long time until you get to the unpleasant parts.

Christian Bale speaks with Paul Fischer in his CrankyCritic® StarTalk.

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