Vamps: Film Review

Vamps Film Still - H 2012

Vamps Film Still - H 2012

Cheesy but chipper vampire comedy has modest charms.

Alicia Silverstone reunites with her "Clueless" director Amy Heckerling for a comedy about vampires living in New York.

Writer-director Amy Heckerling, a chronicler of youth culture from Fast Times at Ridgemont High through recent hired-gun stints on Gossip Girl, knows a thing or two about trying to keep up with lifestyle trends. The experience shows in Vamps, a sometimes bittersweet comedy whose eternally young heroine has outlived her willingness to embrace the new. Charming at times but surprisingly cheap-feeling given the cast Heckerling has assembled, the film has slim commercial prospects and is already scheduled for a Nov. 13 video release.

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Alicia Silverstone, who had her brightest moment in Heckerling's Clueless, retains some of that charm as Goody, a 19th-century Abolitionist who, having been made immortal by a powerful "stem vampire" (Sigourney Weaver), has watched New York City's ups and downs for over a hundred years. She's spent the last two decades with buddy Stacy (Krysten Ritter), a vamp whose more recent vintage makes her better at adapting to things like texting slang. Too kind-hearted to live off human blood, the two are part of an AA-type support group for rodent-feeding vampires -- scenes of them popping straws into rats are probably more off-putting than intended -- that includes such old-timers as Vlad the Impaler himself (Malcolm McDowell).

The pair's old day-sleeping routine is threatened when Stacy falls for Joey (Dan Stevens), who happens to be descended from the vampire-hunting Van Helsing clan. (Playing Joey's dad, still a rabid monster-slayer, Wallace Shawn earns some of the film's biggest laughs.) Meanwhile, Goody stumbles across an aging former lover -- Richard Lewis, surprisingly touching as a man watching his wife die of cancer.

Heckerling's strange, not wholly crazy script manages to squeeze wistful riffs about Manhattan's history in among the broad laughs and film-history references. (Goody fends off an unwanted nightclub advance with "We never drink ... mojitos.") But the movie suffers sitcom-level production values that keep its oddball scenario from gelling. Special effects and ghoulish makeup are often so hokey one assumes they were meant to be, but it's hard to say why -- especially considering how invested the cast appears to be in bringing this silliness to life.

Production Companies: Lucky Monkey Pictures, Red Hour Films
Cast: Alicia Silverstone, Krysten Ritter, Dan Stevens, Richard Lewis, Wallace Shawn, Justin Kirk, Malcolmn McDowell, Sigourney Weaver, Kristen Johnston, Zak Orth, Todd Barry
Director-Screenwriter: Amy Heckerling
Producers: Lauren Versel, Molly Hassell, Stuart Cornfeld, Maria Teresa Arida, Adam Brightman
Executive producers: Stanislaw Tyczynski, Julie Kroll, Kamal Nahas, John Jencks, Lisa Wilson, Stephen Hays, Peter Graham
Director of photography: Tim Suhrstedt
Production designer: Dan Leigh
Music: David Kitaygorodsky
Costume designer: Mona May
Editor: Debra Chiate
PG-13, 92 minutes.