Oft-maligned is poor George A. Romero, I think primarily in the face of either hype thanks to his zombie mastworks, or in the face of comparison to those same films. I am, somewhat famously I suppose when people see my collection of DVDs, willing to grant and accept an awful lot and suspend my disbelief if the movie just works for me, regardless of the cheapness of effects, or the occasional clunky dialogue or iffy acting if the overall package, or especially the underlying idea, is something I find interesting enough.
Bruiser is one such film, and it's one of the most "disappointing" to horror fans at large once they see George's name attached. Is this fair? I don't know, because I don't know how much I WOULD like it without his name--if it were, pardon the unintended and awful pun, a faceless film from a faceless director, I might not have any interest in it. But, if it were the same film in every single way and I simply didn't know the director, I don't know what I would think or wouldn't think. That's a moot point, though, as this IS a George A. Romero movie. No, it isn't a zombie movie, no it isn't a classic like those three and a half (Land of the Dead was not quite up to a 'classic' level, but I don't mean to imply it's half a movie, just halfway to a classic) movies, no it isn't as epic. But a lot of Romero's movies really aren't. Martin is fascinating as a vampire movie, and this is sort of in that vein of Romero's work--the supernatural/horror character study. That's my kind of thing, so long as it comes out watchable, enjoyable and reasonable.
It doesn't hurt anything that Jason Flemyng stars, as I have a weakness for recurring character actors (you would probably not know him from Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels--but if you watched them and I pointed him out, you would say, "Oh, yeah! That guy!") and especially those with interesting faces of some kind. What does interesting mean? I don't really know. There are just some faces that sort of hold my interest. Not as attraction, repulsion--just keep my attention. Of course, once you know the plot of the movie, this is instantly an odd claim to make.
Bruiser is actually the name of a fashion magazine run by Milo Styles (Peter Stormare--hilariously and joyously over-the-top and insane as an immigrant fashion scout who cannot keep his pants on and is unbelievably full of bluster--and himself) which Henry Creedlow (Flemyng) works at. Creedlow is a schlub, walked on by everyone around him, mocked and especially prone to be the subject of self-interested screw-overs. His wife, best friend, boss, co-workers--he actually even sees the things they're doing to him and just moves on, trying to be a nice guy and go with the flow as everything is drained from his life. We first see him in the morning fantasizing about suicide, when he is listening to a talk show where a caller does just that. He is shocked and intrigued by this, and questions why anyone would do it--even though he'd just thought of doing it himself. He spends a lot more fantasies thinking about doing something in return to the people who are so careless with him, but never says a word to any of them. Milo's wife Rose (Leslie Hope, also known as "Jack Bauer's Wife") is the only decent person around him with any appreciation for him. At a work party, they're all preparing for a large masquerade, with Rose casting everyone's faces and making masks from them. Henry catches his wife giving Milo some, ah, inappropriate manual attentions and she knows. She angrily tears into him in the car on the way home, questioning why he did and said nothing--why he didn't slug Milo, or her. She tells him he is nothing and nobody, and he goes home to drink.
When he wakes up, he finds the blank mask Rose made of him on his face...except he soon realizes it is now his actual face. While one might think that a cast-mask would naturally show features of the person underneath, this one is actually fantastic. It looks as much like skin as a creepily pure-white, smooth and non-descript non-face can, and manages to cover up any unique features present in Flemyng's face. Thinking he's dreaming, he finally acts out one of his violent thoughts--and quickly discovers that in fact he is now as faceless as everyone has felt him to be. From here he begins to stand up for himself and take advantage of his facelessness...
I know how much a lot of people hate this movie, or think it's Romero's worst, and I recall enjoying but not being overly impressed by it. On a re-watch, I liked it a lot more, knowing where it was going and seeing how it all fit together better, as clearly this is one where the commentary in some ways outshines the plot in terms of importance. Romero is more interested in commenting on the nature of Henry's social condition than he is on the story of what he does with it. Is the story still solid? Yes, and very enjoyable, but you can feel that it isn't the "point" of the movie. I think that was the weird itch in the back of my head when I first saw it; I was not looking for that, and so I felt a strange distant disappointment despite my enjoyment. Now I think it has resolved itself, and I like the movie a lot more.
Interesting trivia: this film is of course the one in which Romero traded direction of a music video for the appearance of the Misfits (Michael Graves era, aka the "Newfits) in the masquerade at the end. It's also what inspired my interest in and eventual love for the band, primarily through "Scream!" which is one of the songs they play at the "party," and also happens to be the song for which Romero directed a zombie-based music video. I rapidly discovered that the original incarnation--Glenn Danzig's band--was infinitely superior, but I still have a soft spot for Graves' vocals on "Scream!" and a few other songs. However, they definitely mostly suck and Jerry Only is a loser.