Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 22, 2012)
Back in 1995, director Amy Heckerling and actor Alicia Silverstone paired for Clueless. With a gross of $49 million, the flick wasn’t a huge smash, but it enjoyed a nice afterlife on home video and turned into something of a “cult classic”.
That seems unlikely to happen with their reunion, 2012’s Vamps. We meet Goody (Silverstone), a vampire who got “turned” in 1841. A quick summary brings us up to date in her un-life and lets us see her in present day along with “bestie” Stacy (Krysten Ritter), a girl Goody changed into a vampire during the 90s.
We follow their adventures together, with an emphasis on their romances. At college, Stacy meets Joey (Dan Stevens), the son of vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing (Wallace Shawn). When the elder Van Helsing meets her, he immediately suspects her undead status and uses this as a chance to root out other NYC vampires.
In addition, Goody re-encounters Danny (Richard Lewis), her boyfriend from the 1970s. This creates romantic complications as well as issues with Stacy because Goody refuses to let her friend know her true age.
Add to that a growing plot to draw all the vampires into the daylight as well as Goody’s concerns about her fate and you have a lot of balls to juggle. Does Vamps do much to satisfy all its masters? Not really. While the film moves at a good clip and manages to remain moderately watchable, it’s too much of a scattered mess to succeed.
Part of the problem comes from the choice to focus on vampires. Haven’t we had enough of the old bloodsuckers by now? There needs to be an act of Congress to put a temporary ban on vampire films for at least the next 10 years; the genre is as played out as played out can be.
Granted, Vamps tries to put a new spin on things, as it often feels like a vampire take on Sex and the City. Its attempts to essentially be a cutesy girlie comedy with a supernatural side offer some moderate potential to succeed; even with the tired nature of the vampire characters, at least this one attempts something somewhat different.
Unfortunately, the end result is far too scattered and unbalanced to fare well. It tries to meld drama, romance, comedy and pathos but can’t bring off any of these sides well.
The comedic elements probably have the most potential. Silverstone’s been in a career drought since the 90s, but I think she still can perform well in light comedies. She remains perky and likable after all these years, and she certainly gives the movie her all. Add to that other talents like Ritter, Shawn, Lewis, Sigourney Weaver, Kristen Johnson and Malcolm McDowell and Vamps boasts a solid cast.
Most do reasonably well, though the movie’s inconsistent tone makes it tougher for them. For the most part, the actors veer toward broad comedy, and that makes sense given the performers’ backgrounds; most made their bones in funny movies/TV. They do okay, though Weaver seems too wild in her role; she appears a little unsure of what to do and leans toward the super-broad side of the street, which doesn’t work particularly well.
But I don’t fault the actors for the general mediocrity of Vamps. Most of the problems come from the inconsistency of tone/focus, and a generally cheap feel doesn’t help. The movie seems to have been made for about $27, and this especially harms effects; the visuals are consistently awful and become a real distraction.
Even with all these flaws, I still wouldn’t call Vamps a genuinely bad movie. It’s simply a mediocre and inconsistent one. While it delivers occasional entertainment, it lacks the drive to become a truly enjoyable effort.