How American Psycho 2 Cheated Its Way Into Patrick Bateman Folklore
Angrier. Deadlier. Sexier.
When is a sequel not a sequel? How about when an entirely unrelated straight-to-DVD slasher is altered part-way through production to shamelessly capitalize on a cult box office hit? Enter, the bizarre post-millennium curio that is American Psycho II: All American Girl.
Launching the leading man phase of Christian Bale’s career, the 2000 original was a provocative yet intelligent blend of social satire, post-modern humor, and gratuitous violence rooted firmly in the materialism of the Reagan era. Transferring what many considered to be an unfilmable novel onto the screen with aplomb, it was a true one-off. Well, it should have been.
The studio execs at Lionsgate, however, had other ideas. But instead of looking toward director Mary Harron or author Bret Easton Ellis for creative inspiration, they simply gatecrashed a generic teen horror and tacked on a prologue that essentially undid all the original’s good work. Indeed, American Psycho famously left audiences wondering whether Patrick Bateman’s murder spree was real or just a figment of his warped imagination. American Psycho II robs its predecessor of such ambiguity within two minutes.
Set in 1993, the opening scene begins with Bateman (blatantly not a returning Bale but vague lookalike Michael Kremko) slicing and dicing his latest date, a babysitter with an obvious lack of boundaries. The crazed banker must have progressed to child murder in the six years since his reign of terror began, too, as the 12-year-old girl who’s been brought along is also bound, gagged, and no doubt next in line.
With a surprising amount of ease, though, the youngster is able to break free and stab Bateman with his weapon of choice. Not only does the sequel have cinema’s most deranged Huey Lewis apologist brought down by an ice pick-wielding tween, but by switching its narrator, it also quashes all doubts over the reality of his serial killer tendencies. To add insult to injury, this is the only time – bar the odd passing reference – that American Psycho II connects to American Psycho I at all.
The film, originally titled The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die, then fast-forwards to 1999 when Bateman slayer Rachael Newman is now a criminology student played by Mila Kunis (then three seasons into her star-making stint in That ‘70s Show). Remarkably, the collegegoer never told anyone about her act of self-defense or witnessing a brutal murder. Instead, as revealed in one of several obnoxious voiceovers, she dedicated her life to preventing other psychos, American or not, from inflicting such pain.
A noble plan, you may think. One that becomes slightly flawed, though, when you learn Rachael is now a fully-fledged psychopath herself. And she’ll stop at nothing to fulfill her dream of landing the teaching assistant position with Professor Starkman (William Shatner, returning to horror for the first time since 1982’s Visiting Hours) that will pretty much guarantee her entry into Quantico and ultimately the FBI.
Ignore the superfluous Bateman links and American Psycho II’s premise has promise. Just three years earlier, Reese Witherspoon had shown there’s nothing more chilling than a student hellbent on getting their own way in the brilliant tragi-comedy Election. Take that kind of relentless drive to murderous heights and director Morgan J. Freeman could have been onto a winner.
Unfortunately, Rachael Newman is no Tracy Flick. And Mila Kunis, at this stage in her career, was no Reese Witherspoon. While the film wants to present her as root-worthy, the femme fatale is bratty, charmless, and ridiculously entitled, while her victims, on the whole, are entirely undeserving of their gruesome fates. Poor secretary Gertrude (Shoshana Sperling), for example, is bludgeoned at her home – just seconds after saving her cat from being microwaved – simply for telling the student she’s too young to apply for the coveted job.
Rachael is also a pretty careless serial killer. She asks roommate Cassandra (Lindy Booth) for a condom just moments before strangling brief love interest Brian (Robin Dunne, a veteran of the straight-to-DVD sequel having also appeared in Cruel Intentions II and The Skulls II) with one. “Ribbed for her pleasure,” goes one of the few one-liners that land. She also butchers another fellow candidate in the library in broad daylight. Had a character been given a modicum of intelligence, Rachael would have been caught long before her kill count approached double figures.
Of course, Freeman, no relation to the deep-voiced Seven star, must shoulder some of the blame, too. Despite a budget $2 million greater than its predecessor, American Psycho II looks every inch the cinema-bypassing cash-in, from the terrible CGI in the explosive finale to the corny slow-motion shots which resemble a ‘90s TV movie. It’s hard to believe Freeman is the same man who delivered gritty coming-of-age Hurricane Streets.
Then there’s the bewildering choice to play a jaunty Danny Elfman-esque score over each macabre moment. And while the original’s use of Phil Collins and Whitney Houston songs offered a deeper insight into Bateman’s mindset, the needle drops here are all-too-literal: none more so than when a drugged Starkman falls out of his office window to the sounds of Catatonia’s “Dead from the Waist Down.”
For a film with the tagline “Angrier. Deadlier. Sexier,” American Psycho II is unforgivably tame, too. The original gave us a blood-splattered, shirtless Bale running amok with a chainsaw. Its sequel pulls away at the merest hint of gore, and you’ll find more skin in your average episode of That ‘70s Show.
Little wonder, then, Kunis later disowned her first star vehicle, acknowledging the finished product wasn’t what she signed up for while imploring the public to write a petition when asked about the prospect of making a third. Although American Psycho II leaves the possibility open – and in the most ridiculous manner possible – thankfully no one has had the chutzpah to dare.