No Tears For Shatner
When the greatest compliment that can be paid a film is “Shatner was good,” you know you’re looking at a new depth of badness in contemporary cinema.
Personally, I’ve got nothing against Shatner. I’m a big fan of Kingdom of the Spiders. His TekWar series wasn’t bad. And I think I’m one of only a handful of people who actually “get” what he was trying to do with his quasi-spoken-word offering, “The Transformed Man.” Yet, in spite of the fact that he’s worked steadily as an actor for six decades; in spite of the diversity of his roles (from Ranger Bob on the old Howdy Doody show to Paul Revere in the TV movie version of John Jakes’ The Bastard to Sgt. Thomas J. “T.J.” Hooker); and in spite of the fact that he is Captain Kirk, the name “Shatner” has become nearly synonymous with bad acting. The man is best known for his, let’s say, “enthusiastic” approach to line delivery. (“Will you. Please. Pass. The butter!”)
How sad, then, that Shatner has not only been reduced to taking a gig like American Psycho 2: All-American Girl, but that he outshines the rest of the cast, delivering what may well be—as long as we’re not counting his part as “Bill” in Free Enterprise—the performance of his career. Either that or the film is just so bad that it makes Shatner look so good.
While Mary Harron’s original movie—and the Bret Easton Ellis novel it’s based on—was a scathing satire of the ‘80s, Reaganomics, and the “Me Generation,” American Psycho 2 doesn’t seem to know what it’s about. The plot finds Rachel Newman (Mila Kunis) studying under former FBI profiler Robert “Bobby” Starkman (Shatner). She is determined to become his teaching assistant next year, even though she’s only a freshman, an implausible circumstance that would put her at the top of the list for the FBI training program at Quantico. Rachel decides to make sure she gets the position and starts killing off the competition. Get it? She’s the new Patrick Bateman! And that is about as clever or original as this movie gets.
Ignoring Morgan J. Freeman’s bad direction and Karen Craig and Alex Sanger’s clichéd script, the absolute worst part is that I don’t think anyone involved in the production had actually seen American Psycho. Because, contrary to what Freeman and his gang would have us believe, Patrick Bateman—while clearly not in the realm of the sane—never actually killed anyone in the “real world” of the first film. Yet Rachel is, according to the official release from Lion’s Gate, “the only victim to ever escape Patrick Bateman alive.”
“I have problems with the sequel,” Ellis said in a New York Post article. “In the first movie version and in my novel, all that actually ever happened to you if you ran into [Bateman] is that he might have horrible thoughts and then make a gruesome drawing of you.” But Freeman’s film—and I’m using that word in the scum-on-top-of-the-pond way—would have us believe that Bateman was the Mack Daddy of all serial killers. Worse than Bundy, Ramirez, and Dahmer combined.
Until, that is, a 12-year-old Rachel killed him while he was focusing his attention on dissecting her babysitter. ‘Cause that makes sense, right? Okay, so instead of an intense psychological thriller, it turns out American Psycho 2 is a slasher flick. Fair enough, this isn’t the first sequel to bear only passing resemblance to its predecessor. But it may be the first to completely ignore the genre from which it is meant to have sprung.
The template for body-count flicks, as established by Halloween and Friday the 13th, demands three things: 1) a relentlessly single-minded killer, preferably but not necessarily supernatural, 2) a whisper-thin plot, and 3) boobs. And up until 1996, all was well in the world of cheapie horror. Nubile young women were hacked to pieces by madmen in ski masks at a regular clip. Then came Scream and, so the story goes, all that changed. Screenwriter Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven played up the usual slasher clichés then turned them around, making you think you knew exactly what was happening, then—yoink!—they went another way entirely.
Inevitably, copycat movies cropped up: I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, Disturbing Behavior, etc. These copycats duplicated everything that made Scream cool (the hip young cast, the witty repartee, the soundtrack full of music from the newest batch of MTV clones) but missed out on what actually made it stand apart from the crowd, its sense of satire.
American Psycho 2: All-American Girl falls below even this low bar. Recently released by Lions Gate, the DVD’s special features include a few outtakes, some deleted scenes (though why anyone would want to watch footage that wasn’t good enough to be in this Festival of Crap is beyond me), and two commentaries, one by Freeman, and one by Freeman and Kunis. The film itself has nothing to offer on any level: no gore, no suspense, no stellar direction, no outlandish violence, no nudity, no snappy dialogue, no post-coital murders… I could go on for days. Neither can it be approached as satire because Freeman apparently wants it to be taken seriously. If not, he would have made it in the style of Scary Movie or the little-known but far superior Student Bodies.
Why would Shatner do a movie of this low caliber? Perhaps he thought he was doing much better material, but didn’t see the completed script. He was probably given sides when he arrived on set each day and that was it. Or it’s possible that Freeman pulled a Bowfinger on him, because, watching him here, acting his heart out while everyone around him is wandering aimlessly, it seems as though Shatner thought he was in a different movie altogether.
Surely, Mr. Shatner’s allowed a mistake or two now and again. He’s earned it. I’m not going to hold it against him. Instead, I’m going to break out my copy of “The Transformed Man,” crank it up, and let the ambient sounds of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” soothe my soul. Pretty soon, I’ll have forgotten he ever had anything to do with American Psycho 2, as I’m sure he’s already done the same.