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With: Jeremy Renner, Bruce Davison, Artel Kayaru
Written by: David Jacobson
Directed by: David Jacobson
MPAA Rating: R for aberrant violence, sexuality, language and some drug use
Running Time: 102
Date: 06/21/2002

Dahmer (2002)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Killer Inside Me

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I'm not one of those weirdos who collects serial killer trading cards and gets into heated battles over the Internet about who is more valuable: Ted Bundy or Ed Gein. So I could only think of three reasons to make a movie about a serial killer.

The first would be to deliver a straight-out horror film meant to startle us and tingle our spines, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The second would be to make a sensational TV movie-of-the-week, like all those Amy Fisher movies from the early '90s starring Drew Barrymore or Alyssa Milano. The third would be to offer a daring exploration of the seductive power of serial killers, such as Mary Harron's unforgettable American Psycho.

The new film Dahmer, which opens today at the Lumiere, is none of these -- nor is it much of anything else. It's not even an interesting biopic, as we walk away from Dahmer not knowing much more about the title character than when we walked in.

Written and directed by David Jacobson, Dahmer takes place over the course of a couple of days, with flashbacks filling in past events. Notorious murderer Jeffrey Dahmer, played by Jeremy Renner (with a weird speech impediment like Bill Murray's in Caddyshack), picks up a bulky Asian man named Khamtay (Dion Basco) in a clothing store by buying him a pair of shoes. Dahmer snaps a couple of photos, lobotomizes his victim with a drill and lays him naked on the bed.

Later, Dahmer meets a thin, single black man named Rodney (Artel Kayaru) in a hunting/fishing shop and invites him home for a drink. Dahmer plays cat-and-mouse with him all night, slipping him drugs, handcuffing him and attempting to choke him.

Unfortunately, the flashbacks are less interesting. We see Dahmer working in a brain-numbing job in a chocolate factory, and we meet his boring, prying father (Bruce Davison). The movie offers nothing besides those minor tidbits to suggest what could have set Dahmer off on the trail of crime.

The film does show us his homosexual tendencies, which it casually equates with homicidal tendencies (most serial killer movies these days do -- see The Talented Mr. Ripley).

In flashback, Dahmer seduces and kills a young, manly, denim jacket-wearing jock (a former high school wrestler) who assures Dahmer that he's straight but still allows himself to be picked up. "Want to smoke some pot?" is all Dahmer can manage in the way of a pickup line. We want to see some subtle seduction at work: Why does this guy go home with Dahmer? But the movie gives us nothing.

I suppose Dahmer holds some kind of dull fascination simply because we know this freak really existed -- a monster who killed and slashed up 17 people before he was caught.

But the real source of interest comes from Rodney, Dahmer's potential victim to whom the movie continually returns. Kayaru conveys a beautiful loneliness and sadness in his line deliveries: "I liked you because you're tall and strong -- everything I've ever looked for." He's so consumed by his isolation that he'll charge headlong into an obviously dangerous situation for a few moments of comfort.

But this one interesting element almost comes through by accident, and it has absolutely nothing to do with Dahmer's physical or sexual prowess, which should be the focus of this film.

I suspect that Dahmer may be trying to understand the killer on a human level, to bring him back from monster to human again by showing us how fragile his psyche was. But again, the film fails -- it can't give us the human without the monster. They're one in the same.

I can only conclude that this film wasn't made by anyone who was interested in exploring Dahmer's psychotic behavior or uncovering anything interesting, or even having fun on a gory B-movie level.

This film was made by and for those folks who collect the serial killer cards and are fascinated by the mere suggestion of serial killers. For the rest of us, sitting through Dahmer's two hours amounts to little more than punishment.

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