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It figures, just when I make a sweeping statement like this could be the summer of films that aren’t as bad as I thought, here comes Fright Night.  This one I’d had hopes for, with a screenplay by Buffy the Vampire Slayer scribe Marti Noxon, based on Tom Holland’s original 1985 story, starring a trio of actors I enjoy, Colin Farrell, David Tennant and Anton Yelchin, what is it about this movie that went so wrong?

Like many high schoolers, Charley is trying to fit in.  Shaking off the cocoon of geekdom shared only by a pair of equally unpopular friends, Charley has bloomed and rolls with the cool kids, even acquiring a lovely, much-coveted girlfriend.  He hardly even notices when one of his former co-nerds goes missing, nor does he particularly care at how distanced he’s become from the other.  Charley’s old pal Ed will not go quietly into the good night, especially when according to the bitter ex-friend, there are things in that night picking off entire families in their sleepy Las Vegas suburb, including the third of their trio.  It’s when the trail leads to Charley’s new neighbour, Jerry that things start getting uncomfortable.  The fact that Jerry’s a gorgeous hunk of man that seems to have captivated both Charley’s mom and girlfriend was enough to raise the boy’s hackles, but it’s Ed’s sudden disappearance after laying out evidence that Jerry is a vampire that finally pushes Charley to have a dangerously close look at the ladykiller’s coming and goings.

For a movie with so much going for it, including the template of writer/director Tom Holland’s 1985 sleeper hit, Fright Night is utterly charmless.  In complete opposition to its predecessor, this version is neither funny, scary, nor clever.  Another critical difference with the first film is that you never actually care for or like any of the characters, who read more like hollow words on a page than fully fleshed-in personalities.  This is most evident with our hero, Charley, and the two alleged titans, the vampire Jerry and Peter Vincent; a hokey illusionist who knows a lot more about the walking parasites than he lets on.  The motif of the Fright Night horror television show that set up the almost retro feel of the original movie is not present and instead we have only Peter Vincent’s website, which doesn’t exactly create a framework.  

Jerry the vampire is gorgeous and plaster-pale as an extra from Twilight, but that’s where the resemblance ends.  Jerry is a lecherous, leering vulgarian who prowls the streets with impunity and spends his time when not draining the lifeblood from his victims, watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey.  Ha-ha, how very hip.  As portrayed by Chris Sarandon in the earlier film, Jerry was a clean-cut seducer; absolutely perfect for creating the disbelief that isolates Charley in his emphatic insistence that Jerry is a vampire.  The new Jerry is more simple and dumbed down; a serial killer with pointy teeth and a bad manicure, and as such, far less interesting.  He incubates his victims in a series of Saw-like chambers and is one for more explosive solutions than suspense.

Colin Farrell, sculpted, shaven and manscaped to an inch of his life (He’ll finally get a Japanese following!) is our head bloodsucker in charge.  Farrell, who has proven he can be exceedingly funny in the excellent In Bruges, doesn’t seem to have any idea how to play this character.  He never finds his footing with Jerry; going for an Average Joe type, complete with mundane small talk and suburban doldrums, then switching gears to become a Clever Sleazoid.  Without achieving a balance, Jerry never becomes a singular or memorable personality.  Sometimes Farrell’s line delivery reflects his odds with the role; speaking in a weird, halting manner that reminded me somehow of both William Shatner and Little House on the Prairie’s late Michael Landon -- or at least Jim Carrey’s old imitation of him.  Farrell is only lacking sparkles to look Stephenie Meyer-pretty, so I found it odd that director Craig Gillespie didn’t make him more of a sexual threat, which was part of the excitement of the first film.  

The Scottish actor David Tennant, best known as the tenth Doctor in the seminal Doctor Who series and as young Barty Crouch in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, takes up Roddy McDowell’s old role as the sham paranormal expert, Peter Vincent.  Made up to look like a cross between Criss Angel and Rasputin, the usually effervescent Tennant is reduced to grabbing his crotch while complaining about his sweaty leather trousers.  I couldn’t help but think Russell Brand would’ve been perfect for this role and fared better than the misused and wasted Tennant. 

Anton Yelchin, so great in 2009’s Star Trek and Terminator: Salvation does his best as Charley, but character development isn’t high on the list of priorities here.  Unfortunately for both the cast and the audience, neither is making a scary or clever film.  None of the leads are given a script that they can - no pun intended – sink their teeth into.  The biggest reaction of the night and the only moment that can genuinely be called clever involved a cameo by a star of the original film, which only made me miss that movie all the more.  None of the frights in this remake are all that frightening, none of the thrills are all that thrilling and none of the laughs are all that funny.

Neither is there any point to spend the extra dosh on the 3D version.  There are only a few exceedingly cheap “comin’-at-ya” moments, like a rock crashing through a glass door, an arrow shot at a vamp and the occasional globule of CGI blood splattered in the audience’s direction.  These seem more like lazy sops to justify the higher ticket prices and add absolutely nothing to the film.

After this summer’s surprising Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I didn’t think it was too much to hope for that other upcoming remakes might not only be worth watching, but fun and entertaining.  Fright Night does nothing to bear out these hopes.  Flat, uninspired and downright boring at times, Fright Night will succeed only in making viewers yearn for the far superior original 1985 film.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Aug. 18th, 2011

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Walt Disney Pictures)

 

 

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