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The chic and the dead.

American Psycho proves its chilly point

American Psycho * Written by Guinevere Turner and Mary Harron * Directed by Mary Harron * Starring Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Chloe Sevigny, Jared Leto, Guinevere Turner, Cara Seymour * Lions Gate

"I have to return some videotapes," says Patrick Bateman to his fiancee in American Psycho, dropkicking their engagement with the most memorable blow-off line of this or any movie year. The ouch factor of the remark only soars when we realize that the only videotapes Patrick watches are from the hard-core porn and slasher sections. Considering Patrick's odd proclivities (he kills people in messy ways), he probably thinks he gets them off the self-help shelf.

Here, in an often hilariously arch film version by Mary Harron, is Bret Easton Ellis's bloody legacy to '80s greed and soullessness--the book that alienated its first publisher, provoked the National Organization for Women into a boycotting frenzy, and was put down unfinished by nearly as many people as picked it up.

For those who can overcome their urge to bite anyone who had anything to do with this picture, the real shock of American Psycho will be just how antiseptic and unsexy is Christian Bale (the British love boat from Velvet Goldmine) in the title role. And that's utterly to the point. A high-rolling Wall Street financier at just age 27, Bateman is the C-3PO of personal hygiene, marching to a daily regimen of 1,000 stomach crunches and enough bath liniments to push up Estee Lauder stock at least four points.

Narrating a typical day in the life, Bateman lathers himself in his white-on-white apartment with body scrubs, exfoliating lotions, moisturizers, and anti-aging balms. When he peels off his face mask there is nothing behind the eyes--just a taut, determined shell. "I simply am not there," he confides to us in his low, after-midnight disk-jockey voice, and he's right. Any opinions he holds are cribbed by rote from New York magazine. Any awareness of society's ills are vented with a robotic sigh, as if he had just taken a compassion enema.

The less of a human being he projects, the easier he can fit in with his smug (and partially closeted) circle of fellow vice presidents, who compare business cards like penis sizes and slap down platinum cards for a $570 meal as if they were playing a game of Spit--and the easier it is to dissociate himself from a homeless man he strangles, a colleague he axes to death, a prostitute (Cara Seymour, in a wondrously alert performance) he snuffs with a chain saw. Like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, Bale really comes alive only when Bateman is victimizing.

Why does he murder? If he does at all--and Harron breathes ambiguity into his actions with escalating surrealism--well, it's tough being a supercompetitive straight white guy having to run interference all day long. The fact is, we never actually see this man do any work. He's too busy living the Zagat lifestyle, munching herbed french fries in designer clothing at overpriced restaurants with fellow trendoids who are all cheating on each other.

American Psycho reeks of Reagan-age amorality ("Just say no!" Patrick orders his obeisant secretary, Chloe Sevigny), but to add that it speaks with forked tongue to Clinton-generated, bull-market amorality would belabor the obvious. Harron and coscreen-writer Guinevere Turner cleverly distance the gore in a way that implicates us in the media thirst for violence without giving us the jollies that usually go along with it. This user-friendly American Psycho may still strike some as too glib and empty for its Cerruti pants, but, darling, have you eavesdropped at Le Cirque 2000 lately?

Stuart is film critic and senior film writer at Newsday.
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Author:Stuart, Jan
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Apr 25, 2000
Words:616
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