If George Romero (Night of the Living Dead) is among the most mercurial of American filmmakers, at least he's in good company. Like John Carpenter, he's built a reputation on the strength of a few brilliant films and survived cinematic disaster with his cult credibility intact. And as with Carpenter, whose Ghosts of Mars bit the dust in August, Romero's latest, long-anticipated offering sorely tests the loyalty of his fans. Not that Bruiser, which the usually venturesome distributor Lions Gate released direct to video, isn't ambitious. It's a curious hybrid of Sam Raimi's Darkman, white-boy revenge yarn Falling Down, and Kobo Abe's philosophical novel The Face of Another, with a guest appearance by the Misfits thrown in. Henry Creedlow (Flemyng, struggling with an American accent) is a Yuppie loser, whipped by his trophy wife (Garbiras) and her prissy toy poodle (animal actor Melanie) and harangued by his loathsome, Eurotrashy boss (Stormare). When he makes a cast of his face during a party, his colleagues delightedly announce how generic Henry's looks are, thus positioning him as the faceless, put-upon Everyman in the center of the film's extended metaphor. Mysteriously, he wakes up the next morning with the mask literally fused with his own skin and his pent-up rages bubbling over. The concept is promising, but its execution is wildly uneven, with Romero's signature dark humor buried under fever-pitch dramatics and ostensibly hard-boiled dialogue that sinks like a lead balloon. ("Like you never stuck your dick up another guy's sandwich.") As the cartoonish object of Romero's comic contempt, Stormare is the worst offender, gesticulating wildly and teabagging his co-stars in one memorable scene. The movie is too erratic to support these antics, and Flemyng seems terribly miscast; a veteran of quirky roles (Snatch), he's actually quite distinctive looking. Composer Donald Rubinstein, whose résumé comprises scoring Romero's more prominent directorial misfires, adds to the chaos with ear-bleeding jazz. There's a satirical bright spot when a party guest continues tooting coke even as Flemyng kicks his ass, but Bruiser is an unfortunate, ugly muddle, likely to disappoint all but the most charitable Romero fans.
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