Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Actor-producer Wesley Snipes may have finally found himself an action movie franchise that he can sink his teeth into with British director Stephen Norrington's "Blade," (***1/2 out of ****)a well-made, imaginative, adrenaline-laced vampire chiller based on the Marvel Comics' super hero. Snipes heads a first-rate cast that includes Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Dorff, N' Bushe Wright, Udo Kier, and Traci Lords. "Blade" synthesizes the exotic swordplay of the "Highlander" epics, the double-digit body count of a John Woo thriller, and the martial arts pandemonium of a Jackie Chan opus to spawn a horror movie several cuts above your ordinary vampire fare.

If the sight of blood, especially torrents of bogus blood, turns your stomach, avoid "Blade." "Blade" takes its cues from renegade vampire sags like Robert Rodriguez's "From Dusk Till Dawn" (1996) and Kathryn Bigelow's "Near Dark" (1987) rather than those venerable classics such as either Tod Browning's "Dracula" (1931) with Bela Lugosi or Neil Jordan's "Interview with a Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles" with Tom Cruise (1994). The Snipes hero must have chose the same guy who tailored "Mad Max" and "The Terminator" in what essentially constitutes an apocalyptic version of Fran Rubel Kuzui's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1992). "Blade" qualifies as a tour-de-fang chiller with darker humor than "Buffy," top drawer special effects, and an infectious techno-pop soundtrack. Lowbrow escapism that it ranks as, "Blade" benefits chiefly from scenarist David S. Goyer's solid, seasoned writing skills and atmospheric, innovative helming by sophomore director Stephen Norrington.
Scenarist David S. Goyer provides an invigorating screenplay. "Blade" bristles not only with lively action and adventure, but also an intelligible plot that the characters go to extreme lengths of describe and discuss. When you consider that Goyer has penned scripts for "Dark City," "The Crow 2: City of Angels," "Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters," "Demonic Toys," and "Kickboxer 2," then you know he qualified as the ideal choice to pen the script. Goyer's revenge fantasy script never leaves you in the dark about a bloody new world where its embattled but immortal hero Blade wages a perennial war against vampires. Goyer shows impressive flexibility in co-opting vampire mythology. At one point, a half-blooded vampire smears on sun screen lotion to shield himself from the sun. Jealous vampires put one of their vampire enemies to death by gradually exposing him to sunlight at dawn. Meanwhile, our hero uses an ultra-violet light to singe unruly fangsters. About the only vampire trait neglected by Goyer is the ability to shape-shift into a bat.

A vampire infected our protagonist's pregnant mom, Vanessa Brooke (Sanaa Lathan of "Love & Basketball") with its venomous blood while she was carrying Blade in her womb. Delivered by Caesarean section from his dying mother, Blade emerges as neither totally human nor truly vampire. He can walk in sunlight without risk, and neither silver nor garlic can faze him. One villainous vampire admires Blade when he observes that Blade has "all of our strengths and none of our weaknesses." The filmmakers milk dramatic tension from Blade's growing tolerance to Whistler's (Kris Kristofferson of "Convoy") anti-venom serum. The chance that Blade may not revert to his vampire origins not only lurks in the background but also enhances the suspense. This element of uncertainty generates anxiety and endows the protagonist with an Achilles' heel that makes him seem more believable and charismatic. Blade cruises around in a 1968 Dodge Charger that looks very cool despite its late model make.

Legendary vampire hunter Abraham Whistler (a grouchy Kris Kristofferson with a gimpy leg) found Blade as a juvenile roaming the streets and living off the blood of derelicts. Transforming Blade into a super hero with injections of a blood substitute, he serves as Blade's stepfather and ordnance maker. Surprisingly, Whistler lasts longer than most sacrificial characters. Loosely modeled on the Roman god Vulcan who forged weapons for the deities, Whistler trains Blade to slay vampires with extreme prejudice. Blade approaches his crusade with the enthusiasm that Charles Bronson mustered for killing muggers in the quintet of "Death Wish" movies. Not surprisingly, more than enough vampires survive from other parts of the world for Blade to combat in the sequels. Wow, does "Blade" ever leave itself wide open in its wrap-up in Russia for a sequel! Anyhow, the vampires in "Blade" are not tooth fairies. Organized into a powerful, global underground syndicate, Dragonetti (Udo Kier) presides over them as a Corleonesque godfather. The scene in the shadowy conference room with vampires dressed in suits is effectively creepy. Kier's Dragonetti is a pure-blooded fangster in a world of full and half-blooded vampires.

In "Blade," the cities of the world have been practically undermined by vampires. Vampires have gained leverage in the business and politician arenas. These vampires own the police so they control the law. As the snotty, upstart Deacon Frost, actor Stephen Dorff plays the half-breed vampire who Dragonetti turned. Frost harbors greater ambitions than Dragonetti. The elder vampire prefers to co-exist with mortals and abide by their treaties. Frost demands that the vampires dominate humanity. Secretly, Frost has been translating the ancient vampire text, The Book of Erebus, which will enable him to resurrect vampire blood god La Magra. Frost wants to revive this demon, but he needs the missing link: Blade's blood. Frost calls Blade "day-walker," because the vampire bible has prophesied Blade's unique genetic make-up. If he can revive this blood god, Frost can control the House of Erebus that rules the undead, and vampires can emerge as the dominant force in the world. The splashy finale in a phantasmagoric vampire temple with skeletons bursting out of the mouths of vampires in a storm of jagged lightning bolts owes a little to "The Fifth Element" as well as "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" (1958), but this scene is fully and logically integrated in Goyer's script.

Sure, "Blade" amounts to nothing more than bloody pulp fiction. Nevertheless, Goyer and Norrington have reinvented vampire thrillers. "Blade" is entertaining, somewhat cheesy, but technically proficient hokum done with considerable technical prowess. Congratulations Stan Lee!