Love, Money, And Psychopathy

Dave Price trails the band and shakes his moneymaker for Baton Rouge on July 26 during The Early Show's "Great American Vacation" giveaway festivities.
CBS/Dan Baruch
John Leonard reviews two movies, Where the Money Is, with Paul Newman, and American Psycho, based on the controversial bestseller by Bret Easton Ellis.
About one new movie, Where the Money Is, not much more needs to be said except that you will like it because Paul Newman steals cash and hearts. About another new movie, American Psycho, there is almost too much to be said. If you like it, there's something wrong with you.

Like Willie Sutton, Paul robs banks because that's where the money is. They only caught him by accident. In prison, he reads up on tantric yoga, fakes a stroke and gets wheelchaired to a nursing home where Linda Fiorentino is wondering about her marriage to dimwit Dermont Mulroney and her life, downhill since her days as a high-school prom queen. No dummy, Linda's quickly wise to Paul. They will dance at a tavern and rob an armored car and richly deserve each other.

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Money is also stolen in American Psycho, though nobody goes to jail because they're all yuppie Wall Street brokers, so alike in their anti-semitism, homophobia and misogyny that they can't even tell each other apart at their bistros, their tanning salons and the downtown clubs where they snort coke. One of them, Patrick Bateman, moonlights as a serial killer.

The film is less offensive than the Bret Easton Ellis novel because writer-director Mary Harron dwells on the funny parts while omitting the torture of a dog, the popping out of a beggar's eyes, the nailing of fingers to a floor and the rape of a waitress with a can of hair spray. There are only two severed heads, both blonde.

Christian Bale plays psycho Bateman, as dead-eyed as he was years ago in Empire of the Sun. We learn a lot about his personal hygiene, his taste in music and his mating habits - and the relationship in the go-go eighties between sex crimes and corporate behavior.

We worry a lot about his secretary, Chloe Sevigny, his mistress, Samantha Morris, and his fiancé, Reese Witherspoon. We know that a drab detective like Willem Dafoe will never catch him in this lip-gloss wilderness of mirrors.

Ever since the novel got him into trouble in 1992, Ellis has insisted t's a satirical send-up of a certain kind of masculinity, not to mention the fetishism of commodities. Harron has taken him at his dubious word. But to read the book was to wallow in the dismemberment of young women by a poisoned Twinkie. And his other novels are also full of zombies. And just who decided to promote the movie with a Web site on which we exchange email with the serial killer?

In Weimar Germany after World War I, they liked to mutilate women, too, in paintings by Otto Dix and Kurt Schwitters, in novels by Alfred Döblin and Hermann Hesse, in films by Fritz Lang and plays by Frank Wedekind. Jack the Ripper was their kind of guy, and so was the Vampire of Dusseldorf, and then Picasso came along to slice and dice, and we should have started wondering a long time ago about modern art, the male ego and sexual murder. Why is any of this funny?