Vampire Academy: Film Review

The misbegotten mashup will please few genre fans.

Mark Waters takes teen vampires to a Hogwarts-style campus in a hybrid that's both Undead and lifeless.

From the 40-plus minutes of tediously expository dialogue that starts it off to the exsanguinated cover of Bauhaus' "Bela Lugosi's Dead" that accompanies the closing credits, Mark Waters' Vampire Academy is a film as soul-sucking as any of the fang-baring bores who populate it. Neither the comedy advertised on posters ("They suck at school," the tagline snickers) nor the self-aware adventure its makers seem to have intended, the film will likely turn to dust quickly in theaters despite its best-selling source material. Hopes for a nascent franchise seem far-fetched.

A decade ago, Waters was directing hit girl-centric comedies Freaky Friday and Mean Girls. Here he adapts a series of young-adult novels by Richelle Mead that, if the film is any reflection, are blatantly derivative of Twilight, Harry Potter and a few sources lower down the blockbuster ladder. While much Potter-style backstory is dredged up here, the foreground action concerns three different breeds of vampire: Moroi, who are a kind of Vamp Lite; Dhampir, the half-breeds who serve and protect them; and Strigoi, the red-eyed creeps who attack friendly vampires and mortals alike.

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Our sometime narrator Rose (Zoey Deutch) is a Dhampir, servant of a Moroi princess named Lissa (Lucy Fry). The two share an unusually strong bond and have been on the run for a while before being dragged back to Hogwarts-style St. Vladimir's Academy by a team of "Guardians" led by the hot but humorless Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky). After a few days watching the cliquey bullying and teen melodramas at St. Vlad's, most viewers will feel the need to escape as well.

It would take more bandwidth than the film deserves to detail the yarn's numbing mythology and interpersonal dynamics, which remain a bit unclear even for those who are paying attention. The plot's a special challenge given the plywood-like performance of Fry as the story's ostensible center: Blessed or cursed with exceptional powers, Lissa shifts abruptly from put-upon underdog to supernatural Queen Bee and back again as unidentified villains try to ruin her reputation with gossip and violent pranks.

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More engaging is Deutch's Rose, whose wiseacre performance and gratuitous cleavage might have held viewers' attention in a different sort of movie. Here, though, there's no room for sass (and no dialogue to convey it). The best the screenplay can do is to give Rose a primal crush on Dimitri, who trains her in hand-to-Strigoi combat when she's not busy going into trance-like telepathic states that make her a passive observer to Lissa's various dramas. (Lissa's a fairly passive observer to them as well.)

Limping around in the background is a terminally ill vampire played by Gabriel Byrne. Waters deserves some kind of recognition for wringing a rare bad performance out of Byrne, though the screenplay -- which has him offering bloodsucker-themed putdowns such as "she's a few corpuscles shy of a full artery" -- should share credit. In a movie that doesn't know what kind of story it's trying to tell, Byrne isn't the only one who seems confused.

Production Companies: Reliance Entertainment, Kintop Pictures, Preger Entertainment

Cast: Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry, Danila Kozlovsky, Gabriel Byrne, Dominic Sherwood, Olga Kurylenko, Sarah Hyland, Cameron Monaghan, Sami Gayle

Director: Mark Waters

Screenwriters: Richelle Mead, Daniel Waters

Producers: Susan Montford, Don Murphy, Deepak Nayar, Michael Preger

Executive producers: Stuart Ford, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein

Director of photography: Tony Pierce-Roberts

Production designer: Frank Walsh

Music: Rolfe Kent

Costume designer: Ruth Myers

Editor: Chris Gill

PG-13, 104 minutes