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Vampire blood and gags

Published Oct. 4, 2005

A crafty director and two sexy stars don't conceal the fact that Vampire in Brooklyn isn't much different from the bloodsuckers we've seen in Manhattan, Los Angeles or, for that matter, Transylvania. Wes Craven, creator of the Freddy Kreuger slasher series, knows how to goose or gross us out, and his camera swirls around Eddie Murphy and Angela Bassett in orgasmic fashion, but the movie has the blunt impact of a wooden stake driven through a heart.

Murphy plays Maximillian, a suave, supernatural Caribbean cat who arrives in Brooklyn Harbor looking for his soulmate. There is no suspense in the fact that it's Rita Veder (Bassett), whose mother went crazy and died in the islands while researching bad ju-ju. Rita inherited her blood bond to the undead, which she doesn't know, but a logy script tells the audience several times before Maximillian can seduce her with a dance.

Vampire in Brooklyn spends most of its time with Maximillian's failed attempts to neck with Rita until she finally submits and develops a deadly overbite of her own, but the story doesn't have much for her to do after that. We're left to check off the references to earlier vampire flicks that Craven "borrows" _ the one-armed lift of a man off the floor, the no-reflection-in-the-mirror routine and, of course, fangs in throats.

The only twist Craven and three screenwriters (including Murphy's brother) add to the Dracula legend is Kadeem Hardison's cackling cool as Julius, whom Maximillian hires as his ghoul. Hardison is just a hip-hop version of Dwight Frye's Renfield in the 1937 original _ a bug-eating scene completes the connection _ but his nasty habit of losing body parts leads to the best gags (literally) in the film.

Murphy is surprisingly subdued in the title role, leaving most of the jokes to his co-stars. He's fine in the romance/attack scenes, drenched with silky endangerment, but we keep expecting him to cut loose with some rebellious funk that never comes. Murphy's island accent slips in and out, and, when he cuts loose with a few profanities, it sounds like he's still Gumby on Saturday Night Live, dammit. This role is a gamble on his part that may pay off in better assignments but doesn't do this film any great service.

Bassett tones down the fiercest glare among female actors from her recent turn in Strange Days, and the looser nature of this performance is charming. Rita is a sensual, scared victim, and Bassett easily conveys her internal conflicts and fears. It's reassuring to see her tremble and smile after her career seemed in danger of being dictated by her pumped-up physique. Bassett and Murphy might make a fine romantic comedy team if they'll leave the oversized bicuspids at home.

MOVIE REVIEW: C+

Vampire in Brooklyn

Director: Wes Craven

Cast: Eddie Murphy, Angela Bassett, Kadeem Hardison, Allen Payne

Screenplay: Charles Murphy, Michael Lucker, Chris Parker

Rating: R; violence, profanity, sexual situations

Running time: 103 min.

Studio: Paramount Pictures