Monday, August 29, 2011

Reel Thoughts: The Vamp Next Door

Now, come on! If Colin Farrell moved next door to you, in a dull, foreclosure-riddled Vegas subdivision, would you really wait more than five seconds before you were at his door asking for a little sugar? The new Fright Night is a meaner, leaner version of the 1985 classic, which changes up enough of the story to make it worth remaking. The original featured some bizarre casting including Stephen Geoffreys, a Tony-nominated actor who went into gay porn, and Amanda Bearse, playing Charlie’s virginal girlfriend a few years before she came out of the closet. William Ragsdale exhibited an acting range that rivals Zack Galligan in its lack of quality. Still, Chris Sarandon was a dark and sexy vampire nemesis and Roddy McDowell was a hoot as the faded TV ghost host Peter Vincent.

Fright Night 2011 takes advantage of the modern economic downturn to explain how a vampire could be preying on people without anyone noticing their absence. Families are fleeing their tract homes in Charlie Brewster’s (Anton Yelchin) North Vegas neighborhood by the truckload, so what who’s to know if they were foreclosed on... or fed upon? Toni Collette (who must have had Yelchin when she was 16) plays Charlie’s mother, a lonely real estate agent who is ticked at new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) who works nights in casino construction and has a butt-ugly dumpster in his front yard.

Narrative whiplash sets in as Charlie is informed that Jerry is a vampire by his nerdy former best friend Ed (McLovin’ himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse) almost immediately. Ed had been tracing Jerry’s movements and managed to not-capture him on camera, and he begs his old friend to help him take the bloodsucker down. Once Charlie realizes that Ed was right, his buddy is missing, so Charlie seeks out Vegas Goth magician Peter Vincent (David Tennant, channeling Russell Brandt and Chris Angel), a dissolute so-called vampire expert. The drunken lothario is not very supportive, to say the least.

Fright Night ramps up the action above the original with Jerry baring his fangs early and launching an all-out assault on Charlie, his mom and his hot girlfriend, Amy (played by the unfortunately-named Imogen Poots). While the original’s acting was sitcom-my, Farrell’s hot, dangerous performance makes the new version sexier and funnier. Wait until you see how Jerry gets around the old, “Vampires can’t come in if you don’t invite them” rule.

Even the ubiquitous 3-D is used well in Fright Night. While Yelchin is a little long in the tooth to be a high schooler, he’s way better than Ragsdale, who inexplicably had a career after the 1985 opus. While Geoffreys was creepy and cringe-worthy (“You’re so cool, Brewster!”), Mintz-Plasse actually gets some sympathy as the spurned friend. Poots does well in the thankless girlfriend role, and Collette is fun to watch and really knows how to wield a realty sign!

If you’re looking for a fun night with a few frights, Fright Night should be just right.

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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