Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review: "Fright Night"

I may risk getting smacked around by my fellow Gen Xers, but let's face it -- the original "Fright Night" was just not a very good movie.

Somehow over the last quarter-century it's gained nostalgic cachet as a modern horror classic. But it's just not very scary, or very funny, or particularly distinctive in any way.

Maybe the one takeaway from writer/director Tom Holland's film was this idea of vampires not as mythical monsters, but real killers who could literally be living next door. The evolution of the vampire ethos has shuffled along down this same route to the glut of current incarnations, as blood-suckers not just preying on us but living among us while doing it.

The remake has a few things going for it. One is the casting of Colin Farrell as Jerry, the cool dude who moves in next door to teen hero Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin -- who seems to be everywhere lately). With his dark, brooding good looks (assisted via computer-generated imagery), Farrell makes for a convincing nosferatu in the smoldering way audiences seem to prefer their vampires these days.

But the script by Marti Noxon just doesn't give Farrell very much to do other than pose and strut. With his strange mannerisms and cool-uncle shtick -- always addressing Charley as "Hey, guy..." -- Jerry seems more like a third-rate male model on depressants than a horrifying night killer.

The idea of transporting the action to Las Vegas, where homes in the suburban desert are being foreclosed or simply abandoned at a prodigious rate, reflects our downbeat national mood, as well as helping explain why locals aren't so curious about people suddenly showing up missing.

Toni Collette plays Charley's mom, a real estate agent who keeps so busy her garage is filled with For Sale signs. Her job is to be clueless, just like the rest of the adults Charley encounters, disbelieving his increasingly fantastic tales about Jerry. What a shame to see an actress of Collette's talents in a generic, lackluster role.

Imogen Poots plays Amy, Charley's new girlfriend, a pretty, popular member of the school's trend-setters. A recurring theme is that dweeby Charley is taking pains to conceal his formerly nerdy ways from Amy -- including disavowing his best friend, the equally geeky Ed. Ed is played by Christopher Mintze-Plasse, who's found a niche in Hollywood playing nerds with an inordinate amount of ego.

Roddy McDowall had one of his signature roles in the original, playing Peter Vincent, a scaredy-cat host of a low-rent cable TV creature feature show, who turns out to have some genuine expertise in the dark arts. That character is transformed, unimaginatively, into a Criss Angel-type magician played by David Tennant.

Instead of tremulous and pathetic, Peter Vincent is a soul-blasted wastrel who holes up in his Vegas penthouse with all sorts of occult items and weapons -- which we just know will be put to good use in the movie's final, unavoidable showdown.

Director Craig Gillespie, who's made offbeat films like "Mr. Woodcock" and "Lars and the Real Girl," has a nice eye and gives "Fright Night" some menacing visual flair. But this is a remake of a movie made without much care, and it shows.

1.5 stars out of four

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