NOVEMBER 11, 2012
Considering the popularity of vampires these days, and the fact that it reunites the director and star of Clueless, I would have thought Vamps would have gotten an actual theatrical release instead of the two screen writeoff Anchor Bay had given it a mere 10 days before its DVD street date. And hell, it's not even that bad, so I guess I'll just have to chalk it up as another example of how baffling the current distribution system is and why I'm basically rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic when it comes to my dedication to traditional theatrical releases/viewing.
Anyway, Vamps is not aimed at 32 year old male horror fans, so I can't really complain much about the weak jokes or terrible FX during its one (ONE!) real vampire fight scene. I would hope that Amy Heckerling would be a bit above some of the hack one-liners (I swear this is at least the THIRD vamp-com I've seen where the bad vampire eats a Chinese person and then cracks a joke about being hungry again a half hour later), but then again this is only her 3rd movie SINCE Clueless (which is rather shocking), so maybe she's just a bit out of the loop. And I knew going in that the movie was more of a rom-com than a vampire tale, so the rather half-assed villain subplot was no surprise - if anything I was surprised she had a scene in between the one where she was introduced and the one where she becomes an antagonist.
No, the focus here is the friendship and romantic subplots between Alicia Silverstone and Krysten Ritter, best friends and vampires who live in New York, sleeping all day and dividing their nighttime up between their job (cleaning at the hospital), going to clubs, and in Ritter's case, taking night courses. Ritter is only about 40 (she got turned in the 80s), but Silverstone was changed in 1840, something Ritter doesn't know for reasons that never really made sense to me. A huge chunk of the humor comes from Silverstone's inability to speak in modern day lingo or use iPhones or whatever, so Ritter's character busts her balls (what's the female equivalent of that phrase, anyway?) about her age half the time anyway - why pretend to be older but not THAT much older?
Anyway, Ritter meets a cute guy in class and they fall in love, which causes problems because he is a descendant of Van Helsing and his father (Clueless alum Wallace Shawn) is a government agent obsessed with finding vampires. Meanwhile, Silverstone runs into her boyfriend from the 60s, who is now married to a woman that is dying of cancer. It's possible even the teens the movie is aimed at will see how this will all play out the instant these subplots are introduced, but it still coasts along on the charm/chemistry of its two leads, the colorful supporting cast (Malcolm McDowell is particularly amusing as a Ukrainian vamp with a penchant for knitting hideous sweaters), and the occasional good line. When a supporting character vampire is found dead, the heroes learn that he was scheduled to have a Time Warner employee stop by his place, prompting this exchange:
Someone: "Can Time Warner just burst into your place and kill you?" Someone else: "Yeah man, they're awful."
I dunno, compared to the Chinese food line it's pretty much comedy gold. Some of the vamp-centric gags are good too, like Ritter floating an inch above the ground while in view of the public because she doesn't want to get her new shoes ruined, or an unseen vampire friend dying because of a tragic daylight savings mishap. Much like Ritter "flying" down the street, it's JUST enough effort to keep it afloat without ever aiming really high.
That said, it does have a surprisingly poignant (if somewhat lost in the film's excess of subplots and characters) through-line of how much the world has changed before Silverstone's eyes. There's a wonderful bit where she recalls all of the different businesses that have set up shop in this one particular spot in New York, and the end finds her reminiscing about the different incarnations of Times Square over the years. "Being young has gotten old", she says at one point, and I think that's the reason teens should watch the flick, especially with Twilight glorifying the idea of being immortal. Especially nowadays; the world changes so fast that even those growing up with it can have trouble keeping up, so it's nearly impossible for Silverstone's 200 year old character to adapt.
Speaking of the technology - the movie was shot in 2010 but Heckerling was oddly prescient on one detail: at one point a character walks in and announces that he just got the brand new iPad mini, a product that was just released last week in the real world. Good call, and excellent timing for its release, as people who don't know how movies work will probably just assume it was shot recently. That will also be a benefit to the film's editing, which can be rather jarring at times - there were at least three occasions where a conversation was clearly chopped in half, with a character's reaction and next line "sort of" fitting what was just said but was in all likelihood a response to a different line that was cut (along with a few others). It's a short film with a ton of characters, many of whom barely appear; the great Larry Wilmore is on hand and doesn't even get to deliver a joke. Shawn's character also seems a bit short-changed, though we do get one nice scene between him and Silverstone - same as Clueless, the two have an unusually winning chemistry, so it's a shame that it wasn't exploited more.
But don't look for any potential deleted footage on Anchor Bay's DVD; it's as barebones as they come. Much like Silverstone, it's been hard for me to deal with the change - AB used to be a company mostly dedicated to putting out special editions of acquired horror titles, and now they distribute films theatrically and put out DVDs that don't even include the film's trailer. The transfer is fine, but I still miss when a new Anchor Bay release meant you got your money's worth when it came to the content. Screw vampirism, I just want a time machine.
What say you?