NOVEMBER 14, 2010
It's odd that two of the biggest 80s comedy stars would go on to work with the two biggest modern horror directors in the 90s. Chevy Chase and John Carpenter "collaborated" on Memoirs Of An Invisible Man, and later Eddie Murphy and Wes Craven teamed up to bring us Vampire In Brooklyn. Neither film was particularly successful critically or commercially, and I think both suffered from being the unfortunate followup to two of their respective stars' least loved films (Chevy's Nothing but Trouble, Eddie's Beverly Hills Cop III) more than from their own inherent problems.
Because really it's not all that bad, especially for a mid 90s horror movie. I appreciate that Eddie was trying to do something new, and he stays remarkably straight as the vampire (as this is an Eddie Murphy movie, he plays multiple characters), with the humor being more of the dry and matter-of-fact type than outright jokes ("kind of itches a little"). Chevy couldn't help but dip into wiseass mode at times, which threw off the more serious tone more than once, but with the multiple characters, Eddie was able to play a unique role (for him) while still bringing the funny via the other two guys (who only appear in two scenes each).
He also lets Kadeem Hardison and the great John Witherspoon get most of the laughs, as his Renfield-esque "ghoul" and said ghoul's uncle, who notices that his nephew is literally falling apart but doesn't seem to find it strange. Some of Hardison's mugging gets a bit annoying, but it's interesting to see how he's basically playing Reggie Hammond or Axel Foley as a 20 year old; if this movie was made in 1982, Eddie would almost assuredly be playing the role, with someone like Billy Dee Williams in the lead.
Unfortunately, it's just not that compelling of a movie. I think it was a big mistake to let him "find" his long-lost soul mate (Angela Bassett with hideous hair and makeup) in the first 10 minutes of the movie - they could have at least milked it for a bit. He literally meets her within 20 minutes of his arrival, which is just dramatically weak on all counts. And the screenwriters attempt a love triangle of sorts with Bassett's partner, a guy hilariously named Justice, and they include some contrived nonsense about her suspecting he slept with her roommate. There's also some go-nowhere stuff about her mental health. In short, it bears the mark of a film that was rewritten heavily from its original concept (there are four screenwriters listed, including Eddie's brother Charlie), with too many characters and not enough time given to really develop them all.
It also has voiceover (by Eddie), which more often than not (for a film that doesn't involve flashbacks or a framing device) means that the film was messy on a narrative level and they needed a quick way to fix things. Maybe if it was Kadeem's character, it could have worked, since the film begins and ends with him (and he has the biggest "arc", relatively speaking), but Eddie just sounds awkward, and I failed to really see the point in any of it.
Despite the narrative problems, I was entertained. I loved the Preacher character (who convinces everyone that evil is good), and Wes was in fine form throughout (though his attempts to make an LA backlot look like Brooklyn weren't entirely successful). KNB's FX were also terrific; they don't usually do full character "normal" makeups, but they did a terrific job (particularly with Guido, a white hood that is only recognizable as Eddie from the voice). I also enjoyed the gradual transformations for both Eddie and Kadeem, with Eddie getting more evil looking the closer he gets to the full moon deadline (why'd he wait until 3 days before, anyway?) and Kadeem turning into a rotting zombie. There isn't a lot of bloodshed or carnage, but it's still a remarkable showcase for KNB's talents.
Plus, I just like seeing these guys try something new. I'll take an underwhelming Eddie Murphy vampire movie over ANY Eddie Murphy family movie, especially nowadays. I remember when he did Dr. Dolittle it was sort of like a novelty. "Oh, it's a kid's movie, but with Eddie!" (and even that was PG-13). Now it's just another sure sign of mediocrity, with no signs of him returning to edgier fare in sight. In fact this was one of his last R rated films, only Metro and Life came along after. Now we're lucky to get a PG-13. Imagine That or Meet Dave, anyone?
The disc's only extra is a pretty terrible trailer. Seeking more info, I went back and read the two Fangoria articles about it. Whether it was just him being political or not, Wes seemed pretty happy working with him at the time despite reservations (he apparently even went to Landis asking him if he should be worried), though in recent years he's dismissed the film and claimed that Eddie wouldn't do what he wanted him to (I suppose being sandwiched between two of the most acclaimed films of your career doesn't help matters when it comes time to reflect). The other article detailed the writing process, which, as I suspected, was the result of a lot of studio notes, Eddie's wishes, etc. Moral of the story - if you're a huge star and want to do something new, direct it yourself with a really good DP, instead of bossing around our horror icons.
What say you?