Sunday, November 18, 2012

Amy Heckerling's VAMPS offers us a vampire movie with adorable fangs

Dividing critics rather thoroughly (surprise: there were a number of good reviews), VAMPS proves a shoo-in for folk able to enjoy blood suckers in a comedic vein, rather than insisting they serve up only fright and gore. There's nary a scare in Amy Heckerling's new movie that stars a more-than-up-to-snuff Alicia Silverstone and comes on like Clueless with its girls a decade or two older and tur-ned into, yep, vampires. What there is -- and plenty of it -- is charm and sweetness (that combo is Ms Silverstone's ace in the hole) and so many giggles along the way that you'll soon lose count.

Like Clueless, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Loser, Johnny Dangerously and the woefully underseen I Could Never Be Your Woman, Ms Heckerling creates gentle satire. And if that sound like a contradiction in terms, you should really be used to it by now. That's who this director is, and it certainly doesn't look like she's about to change her stripes. Her movies are funny and smart, sweet and sour about what's going on now (which she both accepts and makes some fun of), but they are also imbued with melancholy, as characters fight for what they want -- and then realize that maybe they don't want it quite so much, after all.
Very human, this.

With Vamps, the blood-sucking breed has become so dear that it makes even the Twilight gang look deadly. These vampires are so kind and gentle (perfect for Ms Silverstone) that they wouldn't think of harming humans or domestic pets. (On the other hand, watching Alicia drain a rat is great, silly fun.) And thanks to a new little twist in this film, only a "stem" vampire can turn humans into its own kind. "Come on," Goody (Ms Silverstone's character, shown above) sweetly remind us, "If we all could do that, everyone would be a vampire by now." Silverstone is as delightful here as she has ever been; if you don't fall in love with her and then feel a real pang of regret  -- and hope -- for Goody at movie's end, check your pulse.

The other half of this not-at-all deadly duo, Stacy, is played by Krysten Ritter (above, left), who makes a fine foil for her co-star. As the two of them take on everything from modern "undead" living to falling in love or having to serve their own special "stem" (a riotous job from the ever-wonderful Sigourney Weaverbelow, menacing Wallace Shawn, who plays a modern-day Van Helsing), these actresses find a comfortable, easy interplay with each other and the rest of the top-line cast. They're dizzy and sweet and just about everything you could want from the non-threatening undead.

Love interest comes via quite a surprise: Dan Stevens (below, from yes, Downton Abbey, and even more of a shock, this is the same young man from 2006's The Line of Beauty), who manages to fit in quite nicely here. As the British straight man, he's required to do little more than look pretty and further the plot, and he is more than up to both.

The rest of the cast is unusually starry for this level of rather low-budget film: Richard Lewis (below, right), Marilu Henner (below, bed-bound), a juicy Justin Kirk, an ever-sharp Malcolm McDowell (the penultimate photo) and Zak Orth (who makes a particularly delightful Renfield), among a number of others.

The movie consistently offers the kind of goofy, silly charm that keeps you (and it) going between the occasional not-so-funny moments. But there are so many more of the other kind that you will soon be giggling once again.

Lots of vampire movies have addressed the problem of simply living so long that you grow bored with this whole "eternal life" thing, but few if any have handled it with the kind of melancholy sensibility and glow that Heckerling, with the help of Ms Silverstone, achieves. The ending is quite wonderful: sad and sweet and actually rather sensible, after all. It might just leave you a few inches off the ground.

Vamps, from Anchor Bay Entertainment -- after a very brief thea-trical run -- is now available on DVD and Blu-ray, as well as VOD.

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