Saturday, August 13, 2011


"Fight Club" (**** out of ****) is a knock-out!

Brad Pitt and Edward Norton co-star and spar in this bizarre but insightful bare-knuckled, no-holds-barred, pugilistic parable. "Fight Club" takes some mighty savage but satirical swings at consumerism, anarchy, and male impotence. "Se7en" & Alien 3" director David Fincher delivers another of his kinetically super-charged, darkly lensed, adrenaline-laced epics about guys gelded by a gilded society who come to life when they stain their fists with blood. At one point, Brad Pitt tells Edward Norton: Penned by "Jumper" scenarist Jim Uhls from Chuck Palahniuk's first novel, "Fight Club" appears to glorify violence, promote fascism, and degrade women. Instead, "Fight Club" denigrates the first, shows contempt for the second, and give Helen Bonham Carter her juiciest role in years.

"Fight Club" spins a yarn every bit as audacious, manipulative and exhilarating as Fincher's earlier opus "The Game." Edward Norton of "Rounders" serves as our narrator for this 140-minute marathon that goes the distance. Caged in a dead-end job, Norton files reams of car accident statistics for a major automaker. Essentially, he must calculate when the best interests of the company are served by paying off car crash survivors rather than demanding a recall. As the narrator states: "A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one." Anyway, the narrator flies everywhere to inspect these wrecks and begins to suffer from more than occupational jet lag.

Inevitably, our anonymous narrator turns into a depressed white-collar insomniac. Lack of sleep drives him to the hospital. Incredibly, his doctor refuses to give him any drugs. He suggests instead that our narrator attend a support group for survivors of testicular cancer so that he can appreciate what constitutes real pain. Surprisingly, Norton discovers that he can purge himself emotionally without fear of humiliation. Afterward, his burden sloughed off, he goes home to his luxuriously appointed condo, hits the sack and sleeps like a baby. Franz Kafka couldn't have captured the malaise of modern society as crisply as Jim Uhls has in "Fight Club." Soon our unnamed narrator begins to gleefully orchestrate his life around these 12-step meetings and support groups for habits and diseases that he doesn't have. He is hooked and happy about until Marla Singer (Helen Bonham Carter of "Hamlet") spoils these gatherings. He knows that she is a fraud and fears she will expose him. They snarl at each other but call a truce and form an uneasy alliance. They will alternate nights at different groups so they won't collide with each other.

Marla poses few problems compared with Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt of "The Score"), a mysterious maverick of a man encountered by our hero during a bumpy plane ride. Durden epitomizes cool; he has everything our narrator lacks. Self-assured, scruffily clad, with all the hypnotic charm of a snake, Durden lurks around the narrator. When they form Fight Club, Tyler lists the rules: "The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club! Third rule of Fight Club: someone yells "stop!", goes limp, taps out, the fight is over. Fourth rule: only two guys to a fight. Fifth rule: one fight at a time, fellas. Sixth rule: No shirts, no shoes. Seventh rule: fights will go on as long as they have to. And the eighth and final rule: if this is your first time at Fight Club, you have to fight." Tyler attracts followers like a magnet. After an unknown arsonist destroys our narrator's condo, he hooks up with Tyler. They create "Fight Club," a form of underground tough man boxing.

Remember "Every Which Way But Loose," with Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson in "Hard Times?" They fight in dark, dank basements. Fincher pulls no punches when the combatants start swinging at each other. Quite simply, these fights are brutal, especially when a pretty boy (Jared Leto of "Urban Legend") is battered to a pulp until he resembles the elephant kid. Only the knuckle-headed will exit "Fight Club" looking for an excuse to scrap. The friendship between Tyler and our hero takes some wildly out-of-control turns. Tyler takes "Fight Club" to other cities, and then movies to the next level with "Project Mayhem," a demolitionist's fantasy that involves destroying credit card corporations. Our hero balks at Tyler's outlandish aims and the mindless, skin-headed idiots that he recruits for his cause. But it isn't until the third act, so to speak, when "Fight Club" decks you with a shocking revelation: Tyler Durden may not be who we think he is.

"Fight Club" will send some audiences reeling in disgust at its sicko shenanigans—like when Durden urinates in the soap at an expensive restaurant where he waits tables. Don't ask what he puts in the clam chowder. When Tyler works as a projectionist at a movie theatre, he splices frames of male genitalia into family movies! If you cannot handle a film poling fun at you, you probably won't appreciate some of the subversive humor. Twentieth Century Fox appears to have gone out of its way to sanitize "Fight Club," but Fincher is such a good director that his visuals contain more bite than his narrative. Like in "The Game," where Michael Douglas' snotty rich guy had to run a grueling gauntlet—a present of sorts for the man who has everything—"Fight Club" lowers the boom on hypocrisy. The Uhls script brims with several snappy and quotable one-liners.

"Fight Club" will strike some people as pretty strange, too. Any movie that never reveals its hero's name, especially when he provides the narration, is probably too pretentious for its own good. Nevertheless, the performances are flawless, particularly the two leads as well as Meatloaf as Robert 'Bob' Paulson. Meatloaf plays the most outlandish character and milks the role for everything that it is worth. As Marla Singer, Helena Bonham Carter is equally as funny and brilliant as both Pitt and Norton. "Fight Club" emerges as an abrasive movie, and Fincher digs his satirical claws in deep. We live in a media jungle, and "Fight Club" smirks at the notion that we would want to destroy it to return to lives of quiet destitution. With "Fight Club," Fincher matches anything that Stanley Kubrick helmed in his prime and shows Terry Gilliam a trick or two.

"Fight Club" ranks as the main event of the millennium.

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