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'Dracula' stakes claim to Lestat's home turf

Category: Dracula 2000 Reviews
Article Date: December 29, 2000 | Publication: The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) | Author: Michael H. Kleinschrodt; Movie critic

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Movie-goers who leave their brains at home should have a fun time at "Wes Craven Presents: Dracula 2000," an update of the classic legend in which Dracula tries to stake a claim on the vampire Lestat's home turf.

Designed for the music video age, the movie has a few interesting sparks of originality but steadfastly refuses to adhere to any system of logic. Then again, the brain has never been the organ that interests vampires.

The movie, directed by Patrick Lussier, opens in London. Wily vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer), who has a novel way of increasing his longevity, has set himself up as an antiques dealer. Unfortunately, his personal assistant, Solina (Jennifer Esposito), has her eye on the supposed fortune Van Helsing keeps locked in a booby-trapped vault lined with demonic skulls.

When Solina and her partners in crime make off with a silver coffin, it's up to Van Helsing and trusted colleague Simon Sheppard (Jonny Lee Miller) to recover the goods. For reasons unknown to Simon, Van Helsing is certain they must begin their search in New Orleans.

Well, it turns out that the silver coffin contains the remains of Dracula (Gerard Butler), a fact that Solina and her gang will discover as they're flying over the Gulf of Mexico. One by one, each is killed by the demon they inadvertently have unleashed.

Actually, this points out the major difference between normal people and movie characters. Normal people don't stick around when the cargo hold is stocked with an open coffin containing a leech-infested corpse.

Anyway, what with the entire flight crew dead, it's no wonder the plane crashes in a swamp in Reveillon Parish "60 miles east of New Orleans" (in other words, in Mississippi -- but I'll let that pass). How many movie-goers outside of New Orleans, however, will get the joke that Dracula partakes of a pre-dawn feast in a place called Reveillon Parish?

The vampire immediately hightails it to the Big Easy, where his visions tell him he will find his soulmate. She turns out to be Mary Heller (Justine Waddell), a Virgin Megastore clerk in the French Quarter. (Virgin. Mary. Get it?)

Mary is prone to disturbing nightmares about a hypnotically arresting man who promises both sensual indulgence and danger. As the intensity of Mary's nightmares increases, Simon and Van Helsing arrive to protect her. Simon falls in love with her and soon realizes that he will have to battle Dracula for Mary's soul.

The movie was filmed partly in New Orleans. Recognizable locations include the Virgin Megastore in the French Quarter, Lafayette Cemetery and some wide shots of the Quarter itself. Insiders say shots of packed Mardi Gras revelers were filmed in Toronto whereas the more sparsely populated shots of French Quarter streets were filmed here.

Lussier's film lovingly captures the rain-slickened streets of New Orleans, all the better to reflect the lights from the movie's ubiquitous neon signs. Scenes often take on the stylized composition of music videos, a fact that sometimes makes it look as if the actors are strutting down a fashion runway rather than performing a dramatic scene.

Still, the movie scores points for adding some new touches to the story.

In one of the movie's best scenes, audiences realize that, in addition to having no reflection, Dracula cannot be captured on video. As news reporter Valerie Sharpe (Jeri Ryan) covers the plane crash in the swamp, her cameraman is horrified to see an expression of agony come across her face as strange gashes appear on her neck for no apparent reason. He drops his camera and discovers that Dracula is turning Valerie into a TV dinner.

There's also an interesting backstory, which I will not reveal, that explains Dracula's aversion to crosses and silver as well as his obsession with blood. This backstory, which adds a theological twist to the legend, might not sit well with the Catholic Church, however.

In some ways, the backstory seems inspired by Paul Schrader's "Cat People" remake from 1982 (also filmed partly in New Orleans). There's even a shot of an imposing tree set against an orange sky that seems borrowed from that earlier film.

Miller and Esposito turn in especially engaging performances, as does Colleen Ann Fitzpatrick (pop singer Vitamin C) as Mary's concerned roommate, Lucy. Butler makes a commanding Dracula, but Waddell's performance barely registers.

Comic relief of the gruesome sort is provided by Omar Epps and Danny Masterson as two of Solina's unfortunate partners.

Despite some fun, spooky moments, it's hard to overlook lapses in the story's logic. Why do Dracula's clothes have no reflection? Given that Dracula can turn himself into a wolf, a swarm of bats or even a creeping mist seemingly at will, why doesn't he use this ability to retreat when outnumbered by humans who are out for blood?

If these questions had been answered, the film would've had more bite. As it is, Lestat should have no problem sending Dracula packing.




Plot: Dracula searches for his soulmate in contemporary New Orleans.

What works: Screenwriter Joel Soisson has created an interesting backstory for the father of all vampires, and some of the effects are pretty cool.

What doesn't: The screenplay refuses to hold to any system of logic.

Starring: Jonny Lee Miller, Justine Waddell, Gerard Butler, Christopher Plummer, Colleen Ann Fitzpatrick (Vitamin C), Jennifer Esposito, Jeri Ryan, Omar Epps and Danny Masterson. Director: Patrick Lussier. Running time: 90 minutes. Rating: R, for language, violence, gore and sexual situations. Where: Joy, Plaza 5, Elmwood Palace, West Bank Palace, Hammond Palace, Galleria, Chalmette, Holiday 12.

Copyright 2000 The Times-Picayune Publishing Company


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