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Fright Night

It's tough to be a vampire these days. Everywhere you turn, somebody has a different vision of you. You're on TV, you're in teen romances, and according to Fright Night, you're even part of a Vegas magician's stage act. That last one's particularly dangerous, as Las Vegas has become the perfect place for a vampire to call home. People get lost there all the time.

So it is a good setting, at least, for a remake of the 1985 film Fright Night, and for Colin Farrell to put his arrogant charm into the role of charismatic vampire Jerry Dandridge. And let's face it; we're running out of roles that Christopher Mintz-Plasse can do in his sleep, so playing "Evil" Ed here is also a no-brainer.

But for all the admitted fun that this version of Fright Night offers, a lot of it really is a no-brainer. Then again, this isn't a zombie movie, so no one will starve.

Former Buffy the Vampire Slayer writer Marti Noxon updates the original Tom Holland screenplay, and like her former mentor Joss Whedon, throws a lot of the expected things right out the window. Among those would be an entire first act.

Unlike every vampire movie you've ever seen, Fright Night makes no bones about it. There's a vampire loose in this isolated development outside of Las Vegas, and about five minutes later, it's pretty clear that it's Jerry Dandridge. Not only that, Ed has already gathered all the evidence and begs his old friend Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) to help him out Jerry.

Charley, however, has put away such childish things in his Senior year of high school. He's teetering on the edge of popularity, has a very attractive girlfriend (Imogen Poots) and the cool kids don't beat him up just for breathing in the same neighborhood. It doesn't bother him that many of his classmates have disappeared. Apparently it doesn't bother the local school district, either.
Soon enough Charley figures it out, too, and most of Fright Night gets devoted to the cat and mouse game between Jerry and Charley, with a lot of collateral damage. Along the way Charley enlists the aid of magician Peter Vincent (David Tennant), a wastrel living high above the neon lights.

This version of Peter Vincent is and isn't a sham. Devoting the motif of his show to fighting against the forces of darkness (and calling it, of course, "Fright Night"), Vincent resides in a penthouse full of ancient texts, tomes and weapons to use against vampires. But for a while he claims to Charley that it's all part of the act.

That is until he realizes that even if he doesn't know Jerry, he does know Jerry's kind. We should feel some kind of dramatic turn for this character, and Tennant does try to give him some depth, but Fright Night is a 3D roller coaster, moving fast with no time to stop if a turn caused someone to lose their keys, sunglasses or actual characterization.

It does hold a few frights, but mostly cheap thrills, and there is a difference. Director Craig Gillespie keeps things moving, but it all feels emptily charming. He has a cast and a concept strong enough to overcome most of that, and in 3D, this thing works really well as sheer entertainment.

On the other hand, with vampires being so prevalent, why not avoid the tiresome trope of trying to convince everybody there's one in their midst? Noxon at least throws in the twist of Jerry being from a tribe that feeds slowly on his victims. As Peter Vincent snorts contemptuously, he's a "snacker."
And a voracious one at that, all the better to fill this movie with action and victims. The CG blood splatters the screen in a way that seems all part of the fun, and when Jerry vamps out completely, it's at a comfortable level of special effects so that we always remember it's a ride, not something meant to truly terrify us.

Thus does Peter Vincent's stage show make a good metaphor for the whole thing. In the age of computers, we don't see the wires, but we know everybody just wants to give us a few thrills. Most of the cast understands that, here because their best-known personas do the work that Gillespie can't.

So Tennant is a foul-mouthed and cowardly variation on The Doctor, not only using an Estuary accent instead of his actual Scottish burr, but even using the same line deliveries. It's comfortable, it's fun, and it's no wonder there's rumor of devoting a sequel just to him though he's a supporting character here.
Farrell plays Jerry as a vampire that relishes his appetites and abilities the way Farrell (at least at one time) relished his celebrity. His warm smile twists only slightly when he has to abandon seduction and become an out and out killer; no matter which face he wears, Jerry Dandridge enjoys his life.

Anchoring the movie as a slightly twitchy teen doing well enough against adolescence let alone vampires, Yeltsin does well enough. He's a decent actor, but aging into adulthood a little prematurely. As his mother, Toni Collette barely registers, but she's barely given anything to do.

This movie really does depend on charm, because though Noxon has updated the setting pretty well, most of her dialogue sits lifelessly. This one depends on the spectacle, and at least Gillespie never lets that die down. Every time I was ready not to like it, Fright Night kept pulling me back in.

But then, sometimes when it comes to movies, I'm a snacker, too.

Derek McCaw

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