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WEAK PLOT PIERCES HEART OF STYLISH 'DRACULA'

Category: Dracula 2000 Reviews
Article Date: December 25, 2000 | Publication: Los Angeles Times | Author: DAVID CHUTE, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
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"Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000" is this film's official title, and it has a nice ring to it, seeming to promise a sly and subversive updating of one of the horror genre's pivotal myths. This is not exactly a minty fresh idea; bolder movies than this one, from David Cronenberg's "Rabid" (1977) to Abel Ferrera's "The Addiction" (1995), have deployed vampirism as a metaphor for, respectively, venereal disease and drug dependency.

And on prime-time TV now the reformed Nosferatu Angel is a good guy, a brooding Byronic dreamboat. But you never know: In the age of Goth cults and promiscuous body piercing, there might be a little bright red juice left in the old boy yet, especially for a genre-twister as crafty as Craven.

A couple of sharp satiric sequences offer fleeting glimpses of the true millennial vampire movie that got away. In one of them, the film's smugly seductive Euro-trash Dracula (Gerard Butler) savors a Goth rock music video and pronounces it "brilliant." In another, he passes unnoticed through the extravagantly draped and punctured throng celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans--the city that has replaced London as Vampire Central in the popular imagination, thanks to the Lestat novels of Anne Rice. A revivified Dracula could indeed move like a born-again homeboy through the most ravenous parasitic subcultures of the modern world: Wall Street. A corporate law firm. Hollywood!

The big surprise, however, is that "Dracula 2000" is at heart a solidly old-fashioned cloak-and-fangs vampire flick. It honors the central traditions of the form a lot more often than it skewers them. Christopher Plummer plays Dr. Van Helsing, Vampire Hunter No. 1, in the oracular grand manner of Peter Cushing, embellishing the role with an untraceable Middle European accent. A secret panel in Van Helsing's wainscoted London office glides open to reveal an arsenal of bulky silver-spewing weaponry, which manages to look both antique and futuristic, like the side arms of a 19th century Terminator.

On the purely visceral/visual level, this is a surprisingly impressive piece of work, especially for a Dimension genre item that was dumped into theaters without press screenings. The movie certainly doesn't look as if it was cranked out on a pinch-penny budget. First-time director Patrick Lussier has worked with Craven as the editor of all the "Scream" pictures, and the man behind the camera is Hong Kong action veteran Peter Pau ('Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), a past master of the fine art of throwing things (often human bodies) right into the viewer's lap.

Lussier tries out some daringly fast, almost subliminal shock cuts in the action scenes, and he seems to know exactly how far to push this effect. Even when the pummeling vampire battles rush past in a blur of movement, they're never muddled or confusing. "Dracula 2000" has some of the best "boo" effects in the recent horror canon, and a couple of memorably icky gross-out moments involving leeches and deliquescent human tissue.

But the movie also hits some tin-eared wrong notes. Screenwriter-producer Joel Soisson squeezes together the tried and true formulas of old-school horror and the new postmodern formulas of the teen horror subgenre that Dimension has been strip-mining for years. The two styles clash repeatedly.

Jeri Ryan, who was the Borg bombshell Seven of Nine on "Star Trek: Voyager," takes a Courteney Cox Arquette retread role as a meddling journalist. Most of the heavy lifting in the anti-vampire camp is undertaken by Jonny Lee Miller, from "Hackers" and "Trainspotting," who accompanies every thrust of the stake with a would-be smart remark.

Dracula is liberated from his mossy vault by a band of bickering high-tech safecrackers, led by Omar Epps. Once bitten, these smooth dudes become wisecracking street-smart blood-suckers who instantly dissipate the ominous foggy mood whenever they appear.

The movie's central weakness, though, is the great big empty space at the heart of the story. There's a guy in the picture who calls himself Dracula, and he's well-played by Butler as a sort of lounge-lizard psycho-killer. But he's never a force of evil of mythic proportions; he seems small-minded and even whiny. The new "secret origin" story that's been cooked up for him doesn't add any depth to his legend; it's just a narrative stunt, a far-fetched twist ending that seems to explain less and less the more we think about it.

* Rating R for violence/gore, language and some sexuality. Times guidelines: standard vampire-horror bloodletting (impalings, decapitations, lots of neck-biting) and one brief peek-a-boo sex sequence.

'Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000'

Gerard Butler: Dracula

Jonny Lee Miller: Simon Sheppard

Justine Waddell: Mary Heller

Jennifer Esposito: Solina

Omar Epps: Marcus

Christopher PlummerAbraham Van Helsing

Dimension Films presents, in association with Neo Art & Logic, released by Dimension Films. Director Patrick Lussier. Producers W.K. Border, Joel Soisson. Executive producers Wes Craven, Marianne Maddalena, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Andrew Rona. Screenplay by Joel Soisson, based on a story by Soisson and Patrick Lussier. Cinematographer Peter Pay. Editor Patrick Lussier. Costume designer Denise Cronenberg. Music Marco Beltrami. Production designers Carol Spier, Peter Devaney Flanagan. Art director Elinor Rose Galbraith. Set decorator Peter P. Nicolakakos. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.

In general release.

Copyright 2000 / Los Angeles Times

 


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