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Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)
I would be a genius if I could start off by telling you about the hidden bits of brilliance that lie within Wes Craven's Vampire in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, I don't believe in blatantly lying to the public. There really isn't anything good to say about this train wreck; the film fails on nearly every level. The horror is ineffective, the jokes are lame, and the performances are terrible. The movie, simply put, is a drawn-out, boring mess.
Vampire in Brooklyn is your basic vampire-comes-to-town tale. It starts with a ship crashing into the port in New York City, which is supposed to be the grand entrance of Maximillian the vampire (Eddie Murphy). Max, a vampire from the Caribbean, needs to find himself a wife. Apparently, he is the last of his kind. He recruits himself a ghoul (Kadeem Hardison) to be his servant, and then sets about trying to seduce a pretty police detective (Angela Bassett), with consequences that attempt to be both hilarious and dramatic.
The biggest problem Vampire faces is a lack of audience sympathy for the characters, and thereby the film as a whole. The centerpiece of this movie, obviously, is Maximillian himself. Eddie Murphy steps into the role, but completely lacks any sense of charm that has previously been his trademark. Murphy's inexperience in the horror genre is painfully obvious. He attempts to make Maximillian this grandiose figure, infallible and invulnerable, but the results are flat and uninteresting. It is only when Max disguises himself that Eddie seems more comfortable in the role. The highlight of the movie is when Max appears as Preacher Pauley, a portly, old-school black preacher. There is a sense of irony and bombast, an actual perception of life in this character. The same can be said for Max's most bizarre disguise, the Italian gangster known only as 'Guido'. The fact that Murphy is nigh unrecognizable is a testament to the fact that he has not lost all talent. He performs these scenes with broad strokes, which work perfectly for the setting and mood. Perhaps if this sense of comfort had carried into his titular, undead character, the film might have actually been watchable.
While Murphy's Max is the main contributor to the audience’s emotional detachment, the other characters aren't helping. Angela Bassett's Detective Veder is played with all the subtlety of a brick to the head. Despite her bizarre visions and panicked response to the 'horror' that confronts her, the audience simply does not care about her or her fate. Her performance, rather than lending itself to horror, has wandered into the realm of ridiculous. The relationship between her character and Murphy's is no more believable; there is no chemistry between them. Her efforts in both resisting and succumbing to the vampiric seduction are simply uninteresting and boring. To top it all off, the male lead protagonist (and Veder's love interest) is named Detective Justice. Just sit and take that in for a moment. Detective. Justice. Nothing needs to be elaborated on that point. The consequence of a flat villain and uninteresting protagonists is absolute audience apathy. We don't care whether Maximillian entices his bride, or if Detective Justice slays the evil vampire. Without any interesting characters to encourage or revile, Vampire in Brooklyn gives up any claim it might have had on the audience's attention.
The last nail in this film's coffin is its complete and utter inability to decide whether it is comedy or horror; ultimately it fails at being either. Slapstick jokes involving still-beating hearts, severed hands, and spat-out pieces of half-chewed flesh are too hokey to be scary and too inane to be funny. The attempts at verbal humor occasionally evoke some soft chuckles, but nothing truly laugh-out-loud worthy. As for the horror, the constant jokes actually undercut anything that might be unnerving, whether it is the multiple corpses on the ship at the film's beginning or the scenes of Maximillian in full-on vampire mode. This is not to say that the concepts of comedy and horror are irreconcilable. Movies such as Shaun of the Dead, Evil Dead II, or even Wes Craven's own Scream series prove that they are, in fact, closely linked. However, when cobbled together with no sense or purpose, you end up with a product that is nothing more than a horrible hodge-podge of horrific humor and laughable horror.
One wonders what studio executive thought it would be a good idea to team Wes Craven, a wonderful (if hit-or-miss) horror director, with Eddie Murphy. It is a testament that Mr. Murphy's only involvement with the horror genre since is the Disney film The Haunted Mansion, while Mr. Craven would go on to successfully balance horror and humor in his aforementioned series of Scream films. Together, the two created a film that does nothing. It does not entertain; it doesn't even manage be so horrifically bad to be fun on some masochistic level. It merely exists, a horrible state for a movie, and a horrible waste of time for anyone who decides to pop it into their VCR or DVD player.
This review is part of Wes Craven Week, the second of four celebrations of master horror directors done for our Shocktober 2007 event.