"You know how it is when you eat Chinese! Half an hour later, you're hungry again!"
Yeah, I know, and that Thursday-night-on-TBS sense of humor is pretty much where Vamps plants its feet. We're talking about a movie that skewers Bela Lugosi's iconic line from Dracula with "we never drink...mojitos!" They're good vampires, so instead of looking at everyone around 'em as Happy Meals with legs, they just stick bendy straws into rats. Vlad the Impaler goes to
Vamps never really figures out how to bridge that gaping chasm between "cute!" and "funny!" That's a drag too 'cause it has all the right talent on both sides of the camera. Amy Heckerling of Fast Times at Ridgemont High fame writes and directs. For the first time since Clueless all those years ago, Heckerling reteams with Alicia Silverstone. Krysten Ritter co-stars, making this the first movie I've seen her in where she's not the snarky best friend in a romantic comedy. Plus you're lookin' at Taylor Negron putting on the red Mr. Pizza Guy shirt again, Justin Kirk as a guyliner-ed Ukranian bloodsucker, Wallace Shawn, Richard Lewis, Malcolm McDowell, Sigourney Weaver, Marilu Henner, Todd Barry... So, ack, why doesn't Vamps manage to score a single, solid laugh?
I actually like the premise too, which plays kind of like Heckerling filled a couple of notebooks with "why don't they ever do this in vampire flicks?" and built a screenplay around that. Goody (Alicia Silverstone) and Stacy (Krysten Ritter) are undead BFFs that have gotten kinda stuck in a rut. It's been the same routine for decades: keep plugging away at another ten thousandth college credit, go out night after night to the same boring clubs, fool around with whatever prick annoys them the least, and hop back in the coffin before sun-up. All of a sudden...wham! They both fall in love. No, not with each other, 'cause I'd probably be a lot more
Stacy falls for a dashing British import (Dan Stevens) from one of her night classes. The only thing is that Joey was born into a long line of vampire hunters, and his pop, Dr. Van Helsing (Wallace Shawn) isn't altogether thrilled that his kid is shoving his tongue down the throat of a bloodsucker. An undead bloodsucker, even! Goody, meanwhile, has reconnected with an old flame...a really old flame too, since he's played by Richard Lewis and all. Danny was the great love of her long, long, long, way-longer-than-she-ever-let-on-to-Stacy life: a counter-culture activist type she met back in the '60s and got the if-you-love-something-set-it-free treatment from her. They can't really pick up where they left off what with Danny's wife dying of cancer, but...well, there's still something there. So, clearly, shenanigans ensue. I haven't even gotten to the part about the "stems" that breed vampires, what happens to the undead when their stems keel over, bloodsuckers being subpoenaed and summoned for jury duty and stuff, a bizarrely technophobic streak, a whole political angle with a surprising number of allusions to Hitler and the ACLU kinda-sorta being brought in: yeah, there's a lot going on here.
I respect that ambition, and so much happens that it helps distract from the fact that Vamps isn't especially funny. There really is a lot of heart on display here, and...well, I can't hate a movie that crosscuts between German expressionism and a gravity-defying sex scene, complete with Krysten Ritter in her skivvies. Todd Barry in fright makeup rasslin' with Wallace Shawn alone is almost worth the price of entry, and then there's a short but brilliant Ray Harryhausen homage at the end. ...but then you'll get a shoulder pad joke or a Sgt. Shultz impression and wonder where all the laughs are. Vamps isn't a complete misfire, but a comedy that forgets to be funny is kinda hard to recommend. Makes about as much sense as its two-weeks-after-Halloween release date, I guess. Rent It.
Vamps is kind of a knockout in high-def. The photography is superhumanly sharp and detailed; the screenshots scattered around this review don't do it even a little bit of justice. The bright, candy-colored palette is a welcomed change of pace too. Video noise generally doesn't intrude, but there are some moments where it can look kinda harsh and starts to overwhelm, such as this case-in-point:
Generally, though...? Nothin' but nice things to say.
Vamps is dished out on a single layer Blu-ray disc, unmatted and encoded with AVC.
There's not a whole lot to drone on about Vamps' lossless audio. This six-channel, 24-bit Dolby TrueHD track mostly sticks to the front channels. Some music and stuff bleed unnoticed into the surrounds, but they're mostly an afterthought, and there's not a particularly strong sense of stereo separation up front. It's a really dialogue-centric track, and as luck would have it, the line readings are balanced cleanly and clearly, not marred by even the slightest flicker of distortion. The low-end doesn't have much of a reason to rattle the room, so don't expect hellish waves of bass to snarl from your subwoofer, but a decent number of effects are bolstered by some reasonably punchy bass. Super-straightforward, yeah, but it does the job.
...aaaaand that's pretty much it. The only other audio options are subtitle streams in English (SDH) and Spanish.
Nothing! Absolutely nothing!
The Final Word
Vamps is...I dunno, harmless. It's kinda cute and has a pretty terrific cast, and I'm all over the idea of vampires that are neither sparkly nor brooding. I just have a hard time getting past its 8 PM-7-central sense of humor, with that sitcommy overexaggeration and an onslaught of punny, sorta obvious jokes. Vamps plays more like an ABC Family Halloween tie-in than a movie-movie. It's the sort of thing I might watch if it were on, but you're not gonna get your twenty bucks' worth outta this movie or its stripped-to-bare-metal release on Blu-ray. If you've gotta watch Vamps, my vote would be to Rent It.