american psycho 2

(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. In this edition, we find out what happens after Patrick Bateman realized he would never be caught or made to pay for his crimes.)

The poster for 2002’s American Psycho II: All American Girl promises a killer who’s angrier, deadlier, and sexier, but not only does it fail to deliver on all three it also fails to understand that none of those adjectives speak to the appeal of its predecessor. American Psycho (2000) is a time-capsule by design, capturing the excess of the 1980s through the eyes, words, and severely damaged imagination of one of its apparent “winners.” Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman has everything he could want, including an ax to grind against those who annoy him, disappoint him, or simply cross his path at the wrong time. But while the film focuses on one man, the story being told is about something much bigger.

The direct-to-video sequel is about a girl who really wants a professor to pick her as next semester’s TA.

The Beginning

2000’s American Psycho is narrated by one Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale), a successful investment banker in New York City who kills the time extolling the virtues of exercise, pop music, expensive furniture, and restaurant reservations on short notice. And when all that runs dry? He kills time by killing people. A homeless man, a co-worker, a model, some friends – they’re all fodder for his sociopathic rage at the wrong end of an ax, chainsaw, or gun, and it’s only as his crimes build into a frenzy that he pauses to reflect on what he’s done. Or hasn’t done? Good thing he’ll never be caught.

Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel American Psycho was a controversial bestseller thanks to its gleefully matter-of-fact depictions of violence, typically against women, and it took nine years before an adaptation hit theaters. The film trades Ellis’ humorless kills (including an infamous one involving a nude woman and a hungry rat) for more stylized and effective presentations while ramping up the black comedy in general throughout. His monologue about Huey Lewis while preparing to hack up Jared Leto? Priceless. His stairwell stalk and kill while wearing nothing but sneakers and wielding a chainsaw? Ridiculously memorable.

The book’s satirical observations translate well and are magnified in their pointed commentary on American consumption, capitalism, and commercialism, but rather than be some dry lecture, it delivers a terrifically entertaining blend of character and laughs against a backdrop of occasional murders. The entirety is good, twisted fun, but Bale’s performance beats as its wonderfully maniacal heart. He reportedly used Nicolas Cage’s Vampire’s Kiss performance as an inspiration, and if you’ve seen that cinematic marvel, then you know that’s a good thing.

The DTV Plot

Rachel (Mila Kunis) was just a young girl when she watched her babysitter fall victim to Patrick Bateman, but she managed to slip her restraints, kill Bateman (?), and then slip into the night before the authorities could arrive. She vowed then and there – again, as a kid – that she would devote herself to stopping other serial killers. Now a freshman college student enrolled in “the most renowned behavioral studies program in America,” she has her sights set on becoming Prof. Starkman’s (William Shatner) teaching assistant, knowing it puts her on the fast track for acceptance into the FBI. Step one? Eliminate the competition, including a rich kid who offers her $1 million dollars to drop out of consideration so he can nab the TA position instead. (Yes, you read that right.) Soon, she’s killing off other students – all from the same class – as well as a university administrator, janitor, security guard, and teacher.

See, she’s killing a few innocent people in order to become an FBI agent so she can save lives by stopping other serial killers. Or something.

Talent Shift

Speaking of murder, when it comes to a head-to-head comparison of the films’ on and offscreen talents, it’s a straight-up slaughter. Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol) directed and co-wrote the first film, and she proved to be the ideal filmmaker for the task as she eliminates the novel’s more problematic sequences (as well as ones that are offensive simply for the sake of being offensive) while fine-tuning the commentary, themes, and comedy. She gives the film a playful energy and avoids the callous cruelties of the book, and the pitch-black humor comes through in spades. And just look at that cast! Christian Bale kills it in the lead, and he’s supported by the likes of Chloë Sevigny, Justin Theroux, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Lucas, Samantha Mathis, Willem Dafoe, and Jared Leto.

Director Morgan J. Freeman’s – no relation – sequel just can’t compete and seemingly doesn’t even try. The film’s shot and directed competently, but Freeman’s attempts at “style” translate into inexplicably timed slow-motion and song choices that deliver literal plot lyrics as opposed to pop culture touchstones. The script by Alex Sanger and Karen Craig remains the only feature film credit for either of them.

As for the cast…while Mila Kunis and William Shatner are known names, this was Kunis just halfway through That ’70s Show (and still lacking in presence) and Shatner long after his prime. Beyond that, the most recognizable face belongs to Robin Dunne, but that may just be my unfortunate brain speaking as he’s something of a DTV sequel veteran, having also starred in Species III, The Skulls II, and Cruel Intentions 2.

And those soundtrack song choices…eesh. The original film features a selection of familiar classics that speak to Bateman’s obsessions and adherence to pop culture – they’re integral to the character and film. David Bowie, The Cure, New Order, Katrina and the Waves, Genesis, and Robert Palmer are just a few of the performers whose tunes set a tone, but for the sequel, the music seems far more of an afterthought. Well, aside from the song called “Dead Things” that plays over the first murder. Or the track “Ordinary Girl,” which plays over a dialogue-free montage of her jogging like a regular, totally non-homicidal college girl.

How the Sequel Respects the Original

Regular readers of this column (Him mom!) will know that I’m partial to DTV sequels that acknowledge their predecessor, and to that end, this follow-up seems to earn that begrudging ounce of respect. So that’s something.

How the Sequel Shits on the Original

Of course, regular readers of this column (Hi, cousin Judy!) will also know that connections to the bigger film are often tenuous and/or crammed in for commercial reasons. Unsurprisingly, American Psycho II fits that particular bill as it began life under the title The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die and was only turned into a sequel once production was underway. That disrespect shows in how quickly it dismisses Patrick Bateman – played here by Michael Kremko in a bathrobe and eye mask – at the hands of a child. The original film’s Bateman is clearly off his rocker, but it’s a descent that fascinates in his focus, his narration, and Bale’s performance. He tells us that he’s “simply not there” as a person, and it’s shorthand for his disconnect from emotion and empathy and a suggestion that he’s capable of murder. His eventual killing spree, which may or may not even be real, is fueled by his disdain for people’s poor tastes and superior business cards in a world that he envisions as thriving on precision and prestige.

Rachael, by contrast, is an open book with lazily written pages. “Yup, I just killed Brian,” she says in voiceover after killing her classmate Brian. This is after spending a few minutes of the film going out of its way to make viewers believe that Brian is himself a killer. There’s no nuance or ambiguity to her murders and they’re simply driven by a one-note plot. While Bateman’s escape from the law is hinted at as being due to his own madness, Rachael’s is purely through bad writing. She kills publicly, leaves bodies everywhere, and the one person who knows her truth is surprisingly nonchalant about it. The original is funny due to smart writing, ridiculously good execution, and some stellar absurdity, while the sequel makes weak jokes and lays a playful score over Rachael’s antics.

Most annoyingly, while Bateman is acknowledged as being mad – and tragically so by the end – the sequel plays up Rachael as a fun and super smart sociopath who’s “one in a billion.” She isn’t nearly as clever as the movie wants us to believe, though, and worse, the film treats her as someone we should be rooting for in some fashion. But she’s no antihero and is instead an obnoxious and unlikable character. That’s fitting in theory – she is a murderer after all – but the film so desperately wants viewers to like her that it instead sees her as the hero of her own story. The script has no idea what to do with issues of insanity or morality and makes no attempt at commentary, and the end result is a pale and shallow follow-up.

Conclusion

American Psycho II: All American Girl‘s connection to the fairly brilliant original is both a promising tease and a crushing disappointment. It’s clearly just a poorly written film about a “movie” sociopath – trading believability and credibility for “fun” – but the forced connection to American Psycho highlights its own lack of personality, wit, and relevance. Even if you could separate it from its predecessor you’re left with a comedic (?) thriller that manages neither comedy nor thrills. Skip it and watch any other sequel with Psycho in the title instead.

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