By Juan Barquin
By Amy Nicholson
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Travis Cohen
By Juan Barquin
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Amy Nicholson
By Juan Barquin
There's going to be plenty of stink over Fincher's latest tantrum, Fight Club. (Perhaps some ugly reactions as well, for no studio that offers kids a recipe for homemade napalm can rightfully be called responsible. Overheard at an advance screening: "no redeeming values, and it's going to provoke copycat crimes....") It's hard to imagine a bar or high school not buzzing over this "controversial" movie for the next month or so. Much ink will be spilled in detailing how it pegs the male condition, revealing the aching soul of modern man, blah, blah, blah. But, despite a couple of good intentions (capitalism-skewering, New Age-blasting), some clever writing, and a few bleak chuckles, Fight Club is to intelligent men what Catherine Breillat's Romance is to intelligent women -- an insult.
For those of you who do not feel comfortable calling the studio for a press kit (this one's designed as a derisive catalog, more amusing than the movie itself), Fight Club is the story of a nameless, young Everyman who sort of calls himself Jack (Edward Norton). Think of Jack as a smarter, snappier version of Griffin Dunne in After Hours or Jeff Goldblum in Into the Night. Trapped in a regimented lifestyle, a drone to The Man, he's lurking on the fringes of sanity, seeking completeness through consumerism. (In his copious, deadpan narration, he tells us, "Like so many others, I had become a slave to the Ikea nesting instinct.")
When we first meet Jack, he's sitting in a high-rise office suite with a gun barrel in his mouth, held by a mysterious man named Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). The two are counting down the seconds to the destruction of a dozen other buildings in the area, as arranged by the demolitions committee of a group called Project Mayhem. The plot, bookended by this nifty framing device, is told by Jack in flashback as he struggles to make sense of the elements that brought him to this explosive state.
A soul-butchering job as a crash inspector under starchy regional manager Richard Chesler (Zach Grenier) sends Jack into chronic insomnia and hypochondria. When he whines for drugs and bemoans his pain, a doc (Richmond Arquette) suggests a shot of reality: a visit to a support group for men with testicular cancer. There Jack finds himself crying (and loving it) between the massive, pendulous breasts of Robert "Bob" Paulsen (Meat Loaf Aday), a former champion bodybuilder with a bit of a hormone problem.
Soon enough Jack is a support-group junkie, attending meetings for sufferers of blood parasites, sickle-cell anemia, and tuberculosis with equal zeal. But there's a problem: He can't get his vicarious high -- pretending to be ill and sucking up the attention -- as long as the groups are haunted by Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), another "tourist." Despite a little attraction, the two strike a deal for mutual avoidance, and soon, beleaguered by jet-hopping, Jack meets Tyler, the man destined to change his life. A bad-boy symbol of proletariat rebellion ("Fuck Martha Stewart!"), Tyler is everything that Jack is not. Once the two realize how much fun it is to beat each other bloody, any single-cell life form could figure out the rest.
Oh no! Attention cinematic fanatics: Read this specific paragraph at your own peril, as it hints at a crucial plot detail! One of the main themes Fight Club struggles to hoist aloft is the notion that our sterile society has severed man's psyche in two. Yes, this is ultimately a Jekyll and Hyde story of passion versus intellect. Thus we end up with a load of Good Kirk/Bad Kirk balderdash, altogether less a shocker than a letdown. (To see this sort of thing done well, check out Bruce Robinson's How to Get Ahead in Advertising.)
Okay! You're safe now! Don't look up! Just read on! Fincher is not at all expansive here, but this time he's accompanied by a best-of-the-best crew who could indeed make the Ikea catalogue seem thrilling. Starting off with Jim Uhls's giddy screenplay (itself a catalogue of snide premillennial sound bites, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk), the movie launches into some amazingly skanky sets designed by Alex McDowell (The Crow). Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth's raw shots are slammed tersely into our faces by editor James Haygood, then stitched together by the pulsing techno of the Dust Brothers. (Hearing their seemingly effortless stuff makes one realize how previous Fincher scorer Trent Reznor is really just the younger, less-talented Randy Newman of his generation.) Helming it all is wunderkind executive producer Arnon Milchan, the man who brought us Brazil and L.A. Confidential, among many others.
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