tisdag 14 april 2015

American Psycho 2 (2002) and Why It Isn't So Bad

As I have mentioned before, American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000) is one of my favorite films. It is smart, complex, beautiful and very much open to analysis and interpretation. Today's film is not.

American Psycho 2: All American Girl (Morgan J. Freeman, 2002) is a pseudo-sequel to the 2000 psychological thriller and has almost nothing to do with it. It is almost universally hated and has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 11%. Today, I will try to figure out why it is so hated and explain why I actually enjoy the film and has seen it three times.

The film is about Rachel Newman (Mila Kunis), who anonymously killed Patrick Bateman (unfortunately not portrayed by Christian Bale) when she was twelve years old. Now a freshman criminology student, she is dead set on getting to be the next T.A. for professor Robert Starkman (William Shatner), as most of his previous T.A:s have become FBI agents. She is obsessed with Starkman and kills her competitors for the position. Meanwhile, her psychiatrist Dr. Eric Daniels (Geraint Wyn Davies) becomes suspicious of her as he recognizes sociopathic and delusional traits in her.

A big part of the criticism aimed at the film is how little relation it has to American Psycho. Bateman's part in the story is very minor and they could have easily traded him in for any other serial killer without changing the plot. In fact, the original script for the film did not include Bateman as a character or plot point. Lions Gate Films, the production company, simply wanted to cash in on the critical and commercial success of the 2000 film. Therefore, I think the film would have been received more positively if they had stuck to the original script.

Before moving on to reviewing the film as a stand-alone product, I would like to discuss the ways in which American Psycho 2 suffers when compared to American Psycho. The 2000 film is very tightly linked to the 1980s and works as a critique of the very superficial aspects of the decade and a sequel could be expected to e.g. critique the nihilism of the 1990s in a similar way. American Psycho 2 could unfortunately be set in any time period after cars became commonplace. American Psycho is also very beautiful to look at. It is polished and very memorable because of the aesthetics alone. American Psycho 2, on the other hand, looks like any typical low-budget college slasher film and the set design adds nothing to the atmosphere of the film.

I have found it difficult to satisfyingly place the film in any particular genre. It is not scary enough to be a horror film and not suspenseful enough to be a thriller. It doesn't have enough gore to be a proper slasher and the jokes are not emphasized enough for a black comedy. It works as a strange blend of multiple genres and there is a noticeable shift after the first act. The first act sets up the film as a murder mystery, with one of Rachel's competitors as a suspect, but the red herring is revealed when she kills him early on. The rest of the film works like a female stalker film, but from the stalker's perspective. Normally in such a film the protagonist is the victim and not the stalker. This could be viewed as similar to American Psycho, where the reprehensible murderer is the protagonist. The audience is confused as to who they should root for and American Psycho 2 offers a sympathetic foil for Rachel in Dr. Daniels.

The weakest part of the film is undoubtedly the first act. Rachel's fellow college students are all cliched characters, portrayed by bad actors, and even Kunis doesn't give a particularly good performance. Luckily, it is fairly short and after a few murders the film focuses more on what works really well: the trinity of Rachel, Starkman and Dr. Daniels. Kunis shines as the manipulative and delusional Rachel in scenes with Shatner and Davies, surprisingly without channeling her Jackie-character from That '70s Show (1998-2006). The dark humor also becomes better when the audience no longer has to be lead to think that Rachel is innocent.

This is why I thoroughly enjoy the film. If you can look past the very misleading title and the weak first act, you'll probably like it as well.

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