Blending a little satire and social commentary with cutesy sitcom comedy and innocuous cultural references, 'Vamps' sucks what little attraction and allure remains of the vampire character (Stephenie Meyer's tween romance inflicted the most damage by far however.) and hammers the final blow through the heart of the figure's mythology. Despite the occasional smirk and giggle, Amy Heckerling, best known as the director of 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' and 'Clueless,' delivers a mind-numbingly dreary experience in a tale of two socialites living in New York who just happen to be vampires. The legions of bloodsuckers that once invaded our nightmares but also hypnotized our imagination with their seductive charm is pretty gone, relegated to kitsch, slapstick humor ('Dark Shadows,' 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter') or the source of excessive melodrama.
Heckerling's latest film is a little of both worlds thrust into a 'Clueless' and 'Sex & the City' concoction, down to a voice-over narration, but lacking the clever witticisms. We get some of the typical horror elements, or at least what the filmmakers try to pass off as horror, as a pair of undead BFFs (Krysten Ritter and Alicia Silverstone) gallivant about the Big Apple, hitting Goth clubs in search of one-night stands. The melodrama comes by way of the two finding romance with warm-blooded men while keeping their true form secret and making new excuses for not seeing their love interests during daylight hours. The comedic aspect in Heckerling's script also grows out of this identity clash, as well as what can be perceived as a lack of intelligence between the two female characters. There's never really a moment when the pair come off particularly bright, even as the two rack up the college credits but never officially graduate or amount to anything.
The younger vamp Stacy (Ritter) falls for a dreamy, blonde-haired classmate with a British accent named Joey (Dan Stevens). They seem like a great match until we learn that the new beau comes from the Van Helsing family line. Playing his parents, who speak strictly in American accents, are Wallace Shawn and Kristen Johnston, neither of which is ever funny nor seem like feasible threats to our heroines if ever discovered. They are eventually exposed by the way — much too easily, I might add — and a reasonably expected confrontation with the family is quickly squelched over dinner. It almost appears as if the whole Van Helsing fact is nothing more than Heckerling trying to be clever, but then Wallace's vampire-killing expertise suddenly serves a purpose towards the end and his role simply becomes a matter of convenience.
As for the older vamp Goody (Silverstone), who mentors Stacy but keeps her true age secret, she doesn't find new love as much as reminisce about the past, which is where Heckerling derives more of the plot's humor. Goody's one true love is a 1970s anti-war radical Richard Lewis, who hasn't aged very well but accidentally bumps into her at hospital where Lewis's Danny visits his dying wife daily. Some of the movie's sweetness and potential comes from these two reuniting after several decades and bringing some mild comfort to a man dealing with his spouse's slow death. However, we're never allowed much time to dwell on this part of the story since Stacy's problems constantly interrupt the possibilities and lead into an awkwardly introduced subplot about Homeland Security, tax subpoenas, jury duty and out of nowhere a fight with Sigourney Weaver, who plays the viciously conceited vamp that sired Stacy and Goody.
For the most part, 'Vamps' has an amusing appeal and likeability that some will enjoy, overlooking much the bad acting, low-production value and the overall direct-to-video feel of the presentation. The two friends living off rat blood, followed by their own private Renfield (Zak Orth) and attending meetings with other human-blood-abstaining night creatures, calling themselves ELFs (Eternal Life Forms) rather than "V" word, is admittedly good, cheeky fun. Yet, it's countered by such dullness as Malcolm McDowell playing a sweater-knitting Vlad Tepish, Justin Kirk as the Nosferatu-like Ivan and Weaver's overdoing it as the villain. Several other jokes and gags also fall flat, barely mustering a smile let alone a slight "ha-ha" moment.
The film also becomes a series of cultural jabs about modern technology impinging on traditional communication. Unfortunately, rather than being some clever insight, it only serves as a flagrant commentary that feels more like an angry diatribe from an old, grumpy lady wagging her finger in your face. And sadly, there is a point in the movie when Silverstone does precisely this while suddenly realizing she's lived long enough. This is also around the same time when I wish I had stake handy so that I could drive it through my heart.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Starz/Anchor Bay Entertainment brings 'Vamps' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD25 disc inside a blue, eco-vortex keepcase. At startup, viewers are shown a couple skippable trailers before switching over to a regular menu selection with full-motion clips and music in the background.
Coming directly from an HD source, 'Vamps' arrives with that sterilized soap-opera look that's quite unattractive and the furthest from film-like. On the bright side, the AVC-encoded transfer is razor-sharp and highly-detailed from beginning to end. Most will find little to complain about so long as one remains focused on every minute detail. The color palette is also richly-saturated and vibrant with primaries coming off the strongest and complementing the story's comedic elements perfectly.
Unfortunately, the 1.78:1 image reveals some very light video noise in several spots with other areas looking a bit more pronounced. Black levels waver noticeably from one scene to the next, looking either distractingly grayish and murky or full-bodied and spot-on. At other times, crush in the darkest portions is evident. Although whites are rendered cleanly, contrast is generally flat and dull, making for a mostly middle-of-the-road but ultimately passable presentation.
Despite arriving with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack, you would never guess it from watching the movie. The front-heavy track is utterly lifeless and devoid of any charisma, much like the vampires featured in the film. There's absolutely no activity in the surround speakers or a hint of effort to generate a wider soundfield within the design, which includes the musical score.
Even as a stereo track, this lossless mix is practically comatose, barely moving out of the center into the other two speakers. The few times activity spreads out and lightly broadens the soundstage, everything is even and stable, but dynamics also seem limited and flat. There's really no range at all; everything is one flat, even frequency. Moreover, bass is lacking and barely responsive, even during the club scenes with supposedly loud music. At least the vocals are cleanly delivered and intelligible, but while the rest of the mix bores, this is one positive is not enough to impress.
This is a bare-bones release without a single supplement.
Amy Heckerling's latest comedy is a series of cultural jabs and complaints as two vampire socialites find romance in their busy party lifestyle. Starring Alicia Silverstone and Krysten Ritter, the movie offers some mild humor and easy entertainment, but it's ultimately a drearily dull experience. The Blu-ray arrives with a very good if only slightly troubled picture quality, and the audio presentation is as dull and flat as the movie itself. This bare-bones release is one title that's easy to skip or at least watch with a pointy stake at the ready.