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“Sucker Lunch”


GARLIC? CHECK. HOLY WATER? CHECK. Wooden stake?  Check.

The power to resist the black Irish wiles of actor Colin Farrell as the vampire-next-door?  Not so much.  Farrell is surprisingly well-suited to the role of Jerry, a seductive bloodsucker who, like the Las Vegas housing development in which he suddenly appears, drops out of the sky and into his neighbors’ necks.  As the film makes plain, Vegas is a regular Mecca for our fanged friends: it’s another City that doesn’t sleep and chockfull of transients.  The opening aerial shots of a colorless community of townhouses in the Nevada desert – think of the homogenous rows of homes in the Tim Burton classic “Edward Scissorhands” (1990) – immediately establishes a sense of vulnerability.  It’s only a matter of time before something dark and demonic turns this Pleasantville upside down.  Enter Colin Farrell stage-left, or is it stage-fright?

I’ve been thinking about Dracula’s eyebrows lately.  For an academic article I’m preparing on the hair of nineteenth-century literary monsters, I focused on this description from Bram Stoker’s genre-generating classic, Dracula (published on May 26, 1897):  “[Count Dracula’s] eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion […] The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor.”  Farrell’s got the bloodless pallor and Groucho Marx brows to play the part perfectly.  He’s Nosferatu with a six-pack.

From northwestern Romania to Sin City, from the Count to an average-joe like Jerry whose sexy surface masks something truly sadistic underneath.  A bloodsucker with a quotidian name like Jerry is, of course, played for laughs in the teen-friendly “Fright Night,” but it’s Jerry’s kids (the kids of Hillcrest Bluffs, Nevada, that is) that make this horror-fest feel fresh and intermittently funny.  Principally, there’s Charley (played by Russian-born Anton Yelchin of “Terminator: Salvation” and “Alpha Dog”) who is pursuing a new friend group, and a new girlfriend named Amy (Imogen Poots), at his high school.  He’s finding his childhood friend Ed Lee (the perfectly cast Christopher Mintz-Plasse of “Role Models”) hard to shake, and like a gay teen version of Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction,” he keeps showing up at inopportune times, threatening to expose his nerdy past if Charley won’t hunt vampires with him.  He seems to say: I won’t be ignored, Charley.

This is the endearing core of the script, and though Ed doesn’t last long (at least amongst the human realm), he is one half of a teenage bromance seldom seen on screen.  Ed’s sexuality may be an adolescent question mark, but when he succumbs to Jerry in a swimming pool, feebly holding a crucifix in the air as if that’s gonna save him, Farrell moves in, holds him in his arms, and says: “You were born for this.  It’s a gift.”  If you’re like me and can’t abide the “Twilight” series and its sentimentalization of virginity, try HBO’s hit series “True Blood” (now in its fourth season) on for size.  You’ll never look at vampire narratives, so ubiquitous these days, and not remember that vampires are thinly veiled metaphors for sexual otherness (gay, lesbian, trans, fill in the blank).  It unsurprising, then, that when Charley and Ed fight to the death later in “Fright Night,” Ed holds his former friend tight and says: “Is this good for you? I’m feeling pretty homo right about now.”

Every Hollywood cast should be so lucky as to have the amazing Toni Collette (as Charley’s mom, Jane) around for just-add-water credibility.  Sure, she went mainstream in “The Sixth Sense” after the camp classic, “Muriel’s Wedding” of 1994, but she returns to the undead themes that made her big back in 1999 and with winning results.  Charley and Amy stand back as she flirts unabashedly with Jerry (gardening in a Brando-esque tank top) and confesses “I’ve had man troubles.  I’m not getting suckered again.”   Another notable cast member is Scotsman David Tennant as a Midori-swilling Vegas illusionist named Peter Vincent.  His performance is an obvious satire of Russell Brand (aka Austin Powers 2.0) and it gives the movie some teeth.  Charley comes to Vincent for advice on how to kill vampires, saying “I know what you do is an illusion.”  Tennant replies: “By illusion, you mean bullshit.”  Pause.  “Fair enough.”

Based on the original 1985 film written by Tom Holland, the retooled “Fright Night” (directed by Craig Gillespie and re-written by Marti Noxon) will entertain you right up until its slightly limp last act.  The film peaks after a car chase with a terrified Charley, Jane, and Amy running from Jerry, but once Toni Collette is hospitalized, “Fright Night” flatlines.   It’s not Farrell’s fault, nor is it his numerous costars’.  The problem lies in the fact that, by 2011, we’ve seen it all before.  Vampires have never been more en vogue and that’s because, like the mafia (Hollywood’s other favorite preoccupation), they operate invisibly amongst us, recruiting and romping in blood.  By now, we hardly need to be told that what happens in Vegas decays in Vegas.