American Psycho 2/American Psycho II: All-American Girl (2002) *½
In this day and age, tangentially related, direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies are simply one more part of the business model, but even so, I would really have liked to think we could expect better from Lionsgate. These, after all, are the people who bill themselves as “the leading independent movie studio,” people who (theoretically, at least) pride themselves on emphasizing the artistic side of moviemaking. And frankly, the very fact that they took a chance on filming American Psycho after all the umbrage the book raised from professional hand-wringers and bellyachers earned the studio a lot of credit from me on that front. Then along comes American Psycho 2. Ignore, for the moment, the obvious wrongness of moving the setting from 1980’s Wall Street to a little, rural college town. Ignore, for the moment, the boneheaded shift in focus from adults in a well-heeled form of suspended adolescence to just plain adolescents. Ignore, for the moment, the precipitous casting decline from Christian Bale and Willem Dafoe to William Shatner and the chick from “That 70’s Show.” Let’s start at very the beginning: in order even to conceive of spinning off American Psycho into a perennial horror franchise (direct-to-video or otherwise), a person would have to completely misread the entire third act of the movie!
In fact, I’m not totally convinced that screenwriters Alex Sanger and Karen Craig ever watched the preceding film in the first place, or indeed that their script hadn’t been sitting in a file somewhere at the Lionsgate offices for years before some studio munchkin had a second look at it and said, “Hey! You know, if we changed a couple of names here and there, we could sell this thing as a sequel to American Psycho!” We begin with the last murder ever committed by Patrick Bateman (Michael Kremko, from Dark Side and Threshold, wearing an icepack mask in the hope that we won’t immediately notice that he isn’t Christian Bale)— you see? What did I just say about misreading the third act? Bateman has tied up in his dining room both a young woman named Clara (Jekyll + Hyde’s Kate Kelton) and the twelve-year-old girl Clara was supposed to be babysitting, and he’s just gotten to work taking the older of his captives apart. That’s when the kid somehow unties herself, picks up the icepick from Bateman’s table, and sticks it to the killer Trotsky assassination-style. All of this is overlain by a voiceover from the little girl, delivered from six years into the future, by which time she has grown up into Mila Kunis (of Milo and the 1995 version of Piranha). Seems killing Patrick Bateman was a life-changing experience for Rachel Newman, even though she’s never said a word about it to anyone. Ever since that day, her sole ambition has been to become Clarice Starling, hunting down psychos with the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences unit.
To that end, Rachel has steered herself toward the small-time private college where former ace profiler Robert Starkman (Shatner) now teaches criminal psychology. No one really knows why Starkman dropped out of the law enforcement business six years back, but he keeps in touch with his old FBI buddies, and a stint as his teaching assistant is reputed to be functionally equivalent to a ticket to Quantico. In fact, that’s where Starkman’s current TA, Elizabeth McGuire (Kim Schaner), is headed next year, and Rachel is determined to take Elizabeth’s place. As she sees it, she has only four real competitors. Brian Leads (Robin Dunne, from Species III and Teenage Space Vampires) is lazy, spoiled, and not much of a student, but his father is richer than the pope, and might manage to buy the boy’s way in with another fat donation to the school. Cassandra Blaire (Lindy Booth, of Wrong Turn and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead), the closest thing to a friend that Rachel has at college, is more credible on the academic front, and it is widely believed that she’s having an affair with the professor. At the very least, Cassandra clearly has a much closer relationship with Starkman than would probably pass muster under official ethics guidelines. But the primary threat to Rachel in her quest to become Starkman’s next TA is Keith Lawson (The Limb Salesman’s Charles Officer), her main intellectual rival in the classroom, and the only other student whom she considers to be anything like her equal when it comes to insight into the criminal mind. None of those three pose nearly as big an obstacle as something Rachel hasn’t even considered yet, though. When she goes to the office of Gerty Fleck (Shoshana Sperling) to hand in her application, she learns that college policy reserves student teaching posts to juniors and seniors only. Rachel is a freshman, and Gerty doesn’t care what sort of verbal agreement she might have with her professor. Isn’t it interesting, then, that somebody breaks into Gerty’s house that evening, and beats her to death with her own “Employee of the Year” plaque?
It all makes sense, I suppose— who would know more about the habits and thought-processes of homicidal sociopaths than a homicidal sociopath? With Fleck out of the way (and with her application presumably fed into the system in defiance of the official policy), Rachel turns her attention to eliminating her rivals. Brian is first. He makes the stupid-ass mistake of asking Rachel out to dinner, attempting to bribe her into stepping aside after she accepts, and then accompanying her to her dorm room to fuck after she’s gotten him nicely shitfaced. Rachel strangles him to death with the condom he was about to use on her. Then she garrotes Cassandra, and rigs her body so that it looks like she hanged herself in despair over some setback in her affair with Starkman. Finally, she follows Keith to a remote corner of the library, and violently lobotomizes him with Patrick Bateman’s old icepick. Understand, however, that Rachel does feel just a little bit bad about all this carnage. She begins seeing psychiatrist Dr. Edward Daniels (Geraint Wyn Davies, from Trilogy of Terror II and Cube 2: Hypercube)— also Starkman’s shrink, interestingly enough— and while she never does anything as rash as confessing to her crimes, she does drop enough hints about her mental state to panic the doctor into calling Starkman, and warning him that he’s got a potentially dangerous lunatic in his class. That’s one major miscalculation on Rachel’s part. The other was not thinking through the likely chain of cause and effect from that mess she left in Cassandra’s dorm. When Starkman finds out about Cassandra’s “suicide,” he has a nervous breakdown and goes on immediate sabbatical— in other words, no class next year, no teaching assistant post to bestow, and no more point to that trail of bodies Rachel has left behind her. What the fuck is she supposed to do now?
Actually, that’s an easy one. She was supposed to make a proportional shitload of money for the studio (which isn’t too hard when your budget is something like three million dollars and you’re on a three-week shooting schedule), so that they could go on cranking out ever cheaper sequels for the next fifteen years, just like those fuckers who make the Witchcraft movies. Fortunately, things haven’t turned out that way. American Psycho 2 attracted about as much attention as Pumpkinhead 3, and seems to have been comparably well received by the fifteen or so people who bothered to see it. This is only just, for on the great quality spectrum of black comedy, this movie is a lot closer to the Sleepaway Camp sequels than it is to its predecessor. It has a couple of halfway interesting ideas with which it resolutely refuses to do anything, and exactly one amusing exchange of dialogue. Otherwise, it is notable mainly for raising the question of who can divest himself of his remaining residual dignity faster— William Shatner or Adam West?