Sometimes it's hard to be a man

Fight Club Director: David Fincher Starring: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton (135 mins; 18)

David Fincher's Fight Club arrives on these shores trailing clouds of sulphur. It has already been anathematised as the most violent movie ever made, a celebration of fascistic machismo and even, if you please, anti-God. Despite favourable reviews for Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, it was stillborn at the American box office, a failure interpreted by a few hopeful critics as a sign of incipient maturity among the moviegoing public.

It's all nonsense. Fight Club is not the most violent movie ever made. It's no more fascistic than pretty much any run-of-the-mill Hollywood action thriller. God has nothing to do with anything. Pitt is as preeningly awful as he always has been, and he isn't even the pretty face that he's usually nothing but. I kept wondering who he reminded me of until, halfway through the proceedings, I got it: it was Bart Simpson. Norton is OK - nothing to write home about, but OK. The movie was rejected by the American public, as it's incontestably going to be rejected by the British, not because its violence is excessive but because it's monotonously unentertaining. The next time plate-glass windows are enjoyably shattered and skulls are enjoyably crushed, then you can be sure the same dopey queues will re-materialise outside cinemas in both countries.

If an ambitious film crashes (and Fight Club does actually have a sort of warped ambition), then the first thing one should do, as with aeroplanes that fall out of the sky, is examine the black box. Sometimes that black box is in the film itself, in its dialogue or mise- en-scene; sometimes it's to be found in promotional interviews given by the writer or director. In the case of Fincher's film (he was both) it's mostly the latter, since its basic premise is no worse than another and even once had a certain (squandered) potential.

Norton plays Jack, a generic name for a generic guy. He's a mild-mannered corporate drone whose complacently consumerist lifestyle is turned inside out when he encounters one Tyler Durden. (The name sounds like an anagram and, given the film's idiotic and redundant last-minute twist, probably is.) The punkishly anarchic Durden (Pitt) is everything Jack would like to be but isn't, his own walking, talking id. Like Terry Southern's Magic Christian, Durden expresses his repugnance of society's materialistic values in a series of actes gratuits of mischievous subversion. Moonlighting as a cinema projectionist, he splices single, subliminally registered frames from pornographic films into bland mainstream fare; moonlighting as a waiter in a swanky restaurant, he pees into the oxtail soup. (Wow, that is subversive!)

Bare-knuckled and bare-chested (they really ought to be bare-assed as well, but that might be just a teensy bit too homoerotic for comfort), the two of them start pummelling one another for thrills, only gradually discovering that there's a whole world out there of emasculated American males just waiting for an opportunity to let the sweat, blood and sperm pent up within them ooze out from every pore.

Well, why not? It's a promising idea for a film, especially a satirical comedy, which is what Fight Club unambiguously is for its first half-hour. Fincher is a vulgar, flashy film-maker (he directed Seven and The Game) who doesn't so much make films as take them, the way we refer to a photographer taking, rather than making, photographs: he's interested only in surfaces and he likes even grunge to glitter. (The French, as usual, coined the perfect expression for this style: le look.) He's a sharp scriptwriter, however, and Norton's omnipresent voice-off narration, coupled with the subject's sociological relevance (cf Susan Faludi's new book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man), initially sucks one in.

Then, just when it's supposedly getting to grips with its theme, the movie goes utterly haywire and becomes yet another brainless, humourless bone-cruncher. Why? It's time to consult the black box of the director's own public statements. What about this, for starters: "It (Fight Club) is about someone who says, `I've opened my desktop and it's not for me, I'm looking for some other specific software that will make me feel alive. The stuff I was given, that came with the package, just doesn't cut it.' " Or this, on the movie's reception: "I never thought it was scary at all. I turned to the editor and said, `My God, what have we done? We've totally let people down in the f---ing terror department; we need to go and shoot some dismembered bodies. Go and see if you can get someone from a morgue and chop `em up.' " Or this, a specimen of Durden's philosophy as voiced on the soundtrack of the film itself: "How much can you know yourself if you've never been in a fight?"

Though Fincher is, I repeat, an agile scenarist, he is also, like almost every American film-maker of his generation, totally incapable of articulating an idea. Fight Club aspires to be a movie of ideas, but its creator's mindset is that of some smart-alecky teenager who has picked up on a topical social phenomenon, invested it with a spurious nihilism which he clearly imagines to be half-Nietzschean, half-Scorsesean, but still can't conceal the real energy behind his work, the obscene and infantile energy of "go and shoot some dismembered bodies". Hollywood, as I've said before on this page, is a kindergarten of prodigies.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?