Thursday, November 1, 2012

"Vamps" cute but lacks wit and bite

Vamps (2012)
92 min., rated PG-13.

Writer-director Amy Heckerling reuniting with her "Clueless" star Alicia Silverstone as a modern-day vamp, along with co-star Wallace Shawn as Van Helsing, sounds like it could be a fun romp. In actuality, Cher Horowitz would say "As if!" at the result of this mild, not-very-funny 92-minute sitcom that's zippily paced and lighter than oxygen but defanged of the wit and bite of Heckerling's former features. "Vamps" comes off as little more than a reason for Heckerling to bask in her nostalgia and cash in on the current vampire craze.

Goody (Alicia Silverstone) and Stacy (Krysten Ritter) are New York college besties. They sleep during the day in soil-bedded coffins and feed on mice blood. Oh, and they're vampires, who don't feed on humans but remain eternally youthful and try out the dating world at night. The 40-plus-year-old Stacy tries teaching her roomie all the contemporary lingo and keeps her finger on the pulse of technology, but unbeknowst to her, Goody is actually older than she lets on: she was turned in the 1840s and has been around for two centries, with fond memories of Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx. Conflict arises when Stacy falls for Joey (Dan Stevens), who happens to be the son of Dr. Van Helsing (Wallace Shawn), and Goody runs into Danny (Richard Lewis), her former flame from the '70s. As they come to realize, staying young gets old.

Delightful and naturally radiant, Silverstone almost looks like she hasn't aged a day since 1995. When we first hear Silverstone narrating as Goody, it's like we're back with Cher. Ritter, who has come to prove her comedy chops on TV's "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23," is less of a spark plug here but still shares sweet chemistry with Silverstone. Diving into a delicious villainous part and always game for comedy when she gets the opportunity, Sigourney Weaver is a hoot as the vamps' 2,000-year-old bloodsucking "stem" Cisserus who works as a fashion designer. Day players are abundant here, and there's not much to say, except that recognizable performers play recognizable characters in Bram Stoker lore. Shawn and Kristen Johnston, as Dr. and Mrs. Van Helsing, are just okay; and Zak Orth pops up every now and then as Goody and Stacy's CPA pal, cutely named Renfield. Malcolm McDowell, who's been everywhere lately, is kind of fun as a Vampires Anonymous attendee. In cameos, Brian Backer, who played Mark Ratner in Heckerling's "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," is one of Cisserus' would-be victims, and Taylor Negron plays another pizza delivery guy that Cisserus snacks on.

Written and directed by Heckerling (2007's "I Could Never Be Your Woman"), "Vamps" is more cute and amusing than laugh-out-loud funny but it's never irritating or really as moronic as it could be. Because of the cast's enthusiasm, most of the gags, which are as dated as instant messenger lingo "G2G" (got to go), either elicit a smile or fall flat. There's the occasional one-liner that hits ("It would be nice not to have to fake all the references, like acting nostalgic over 'Hey Arnold' instead of 'Happy Days.'"), but then there's a tacky gag where a suave vampire keeps Danny's cancer-suffering wife (Marilu Henner) alive by having her lick fresh cuts on his chest. Cutaways to black-and-white classics like "Nosferatu" and "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" mostly prove Heckerling deserves an "A" in film history. Breezy and silly as it is anemic and rambling, this negligible froth won't age longer than a day.


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