Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fright Night, or, "The Scooby Gang is back... Wait."

I remember a time, before the housing bubble, when Vegas was a boom town for incoming population. Not tourists mind you, but people moving to the Vegas area to stay for all the jobs, Jobs, JOBS! I mean, there were signing bonuses for teachers… teachers… that all but bought your house for you in these little suburbs springing up in the desert to service, well, some sort of need.

Then the bubble burst and Vegas was once again relegated to being a venue for the moderate-to-stinking rich or the setting for a fairly successful police procedural franchise.

The boom was over… and Fright Night shoves it in our faces to great effect.

See, Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) and his mom (Toni Collette) are all but living in a ghost town of a subdivision where maybe one in five houses is occupied. Of those remaining, several are occupied by Charley’s new friends (who are jerks that he wants to impress), several house his old friends (who he doesn’t want to screw up his newfound coolness and hot girlfriend) and one is the lair of a rugged hard body who works night construction on The Strip and is sniffing after the women in Charley’s life (including his mother, his girlfriend AND his hot go-go dancer neighbor).

Things start getting interesting when one of Charley’s old friends, Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse of Superbad and Kick-Ass fame), comes to him desperate. It seems Ed thinks that Charley’s new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is an honest-to-WOD vampire and he’s slowly eating what’s left of their neighborhood to fulfill his bloodlust. Once Ed goes missing, it’s up to Charley to protect the neighborhood (and its hotties) from Jerry the Vampire’s thirst.

One problem… Jerry’s a very proactive vampire.

Okay, summary out of the way, I had a lot of fun watching this movie. It’s not sterling by any imagination, but it’s not horrible either. The film definitely embraces its camp in a way similar to how Robert Rodriquez did with From Dusk Till Dawn fifteen years ago. Simple, yet fun, cinematography, saving special effects for key sequences and relying more on the half adventure/half horror thriller narrative to push the story along works, but only up to a point.

I definitely got a Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe watching this movie and, in the credits, I found out the reason why. Marti Noxon, a big BtVS name, wrote the screenplay… and it shows. The dialogue is often fun, but never really breaks beyond the teen drama level of sophistication or wit.

This is especially disappointing since one of the key attractions of the film for geeks was the inclusion of David Tennant in the cast. His tenure as The Doctor made us love him for his wit and delivery and not being given much to work with here is a pain, both for him and for us. I will say that some of his most enjoyable lines were between him, as the goth magician Peter Vincent, and his girl Ginger (Sandra Vergara). Their cattiness back and forth until the end of the second act was quite fun.

Getting back to the lead, Anton is almost in Charlie Bartlett mode here as he breezes through Charley Brewster, the ex-nerd dating the smoking hot Amy (Imogen Poots) as opposed to the quirkily hot Kat Dennings (not seen in this film~). He’s not quite as manic as the old Charlie (from Charlie Bartlett), but it’s definitely familiar territory for him and, while this Charley’s initial motivations are very high school, it makes a fair amount of sense.

His and Amy’s romance is moderately believable. I mean, Charley spends the majority of the movie, when he’s not freaking out because he lives next to a vampire, worrying over the idea that he might lose his unbelievably attractive girlfriend if she were to find out about his geeky past… or just on general principle, really. Especially since Colin Farrell is just next door showing off his hard body to tempt her (and Charley’s mother and their go-go dancer neighbor) away. But, really, the only moment that really worked for me between them was when she scolds him for missing a vampire’s heart.

As mentioned above, the cinematography was pleasingly uncomplicated, but I’d like to bring up the 3-D effects. Most of them were fairly unnecessary, usually involving splattering blood and the like, but I’d like to mention two key scenes.

The first is the highway scene where Charley, his Mom and Amy attempt to escape from Jerry who is feeling a bit hungry or randy… or both (I was never quite sure). Basically the 3-D camera is thrust into the minivan and rotated to give depth to both the interior and exterior. It’s oddly jarring, especially when the dirt bike comes into play.

Thumbs down.

But then there’s the fiery ashes that explode over the screen when Charley kills his first vampire. The various motes burn and flicker all throughout the viewer’s field of vision… very beautiful, even if just a gimmick.

So, thumbs up? Really, it’s a mixed bag.

All in all, there’s nothing too deep to worry about with this film. Boy’s friends, family and love interests begin to be picked off by the undead. Boy decides he needs to save the day. Violence and campy slaying ensues. Good times are had by most (save for those who are eaten or turned to ash).

Fright Night will never be enshrined on anyone’s top ten list, but it’s definitely a fun watch… especially with friends. I recommend most folks skip the 3-D and wait for it to hit DVD as a rental.

-Nick Michael

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