Anchor Bay // 2012 // 93 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // November 28th, 2012
To most people, Goody (Alicia Silverstone, Clueless) and Stacy (Krysten Ritter, Gilmore Girls) are just two young women who enjoy the New York night life. While this may be true to an extent, what they don't let on is that they are in fact a pair of modern-day vampires. Having never tasted human blood -- instead opting to dine on rats and pigeons -- the two girls live a carefree existence.
Complications arise, however, when Stacey falls for Joey Van Helsing (Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey), whose father, Dr. Van Helsing (Wallace Shawn, The Princess Bride), carries on the family tradition of vampire hunting. Goody finds her own life in turmoil when she unexpectedly bumps into an old flame (Richard Lewis, Robin Hood: Men in Tights) from the sixties. Making matters worse is the arrival in town of Cisserus (Sigourney Weaver, Alien), the vampire who turned them both, forcing them both to make some tough decisions.
Vamps is an strange little film. In terms of its narrative, this latest offering from writer-director Amy Heckerling (Clueless) is pretty much a complete bust. Yet, no doubt in part to its game cast, we are left with a film that is oddly enjoyable, thanks to its quirky characters who become increasingly likeable as the movie progresses.
For a comedy, Vamps is remarkably light on genuinely funny jokes. Sure, there are a few quips that will raise a smile, but not once do I recall actually laughing out loud, while some of the ideas -- such as the reimagining of Vlad the Impaler (Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange) as a knitting-obssessed wimp -- fall flat. One assumes Heckerling was fully aware of the comic limitations of her writing this time out, as she resorts to a few cheap gags in a desperate attempt to gain a chuckle, as is evident when -- in an attempt to explain her devouring of a restaurant full of Chinese people -- Sigourney Weaver utters the well-worn "You know how it is when you eat Chinese. Half an hour later you're hungry again" line. Still, Heckerling's screenplay is littered with some smart pop culture references that, along with the way it explores the passing of time, ensure the film resonates long after the end credits have rolled. Indeed, the film's finale, in which the history of New York is relayed through the memory of Silverstone's Goody is far more emotional than anyone would have reasonably assumed when they first pressed play on their DVD remote.
The cast is by far the strongest aspect of Vamps, with Richard Lewis being the standout as one of Goody's old flames who carries a plot thread that explores lost love and the lengths people will go to save those most dear to them. Leads Silverstone and Ritter deliver performances that are perfectly in keeping with the film's tone, as their initially slight roles follow increasingly emotional arcs. The likes of Wallace Shawn, Malcolm McDowell, and Sigourney Weaver provide more than sufficient backup in small roles that, though hardly using these seasoned actors, at least allow them to have some fun.
For all its apparent reluctance to conform to anything resembling a structured plot, the final act of Vamps finds itself clutching for a way to tie up all the small plot threads it has started. Unquestionably, this is where the film is at its weakest, as not only is it so at odds with the far looser plotting that has gone before, but it is actually quite poorly conceived, relying on pretty standard vampire movie conventions.
I wasn't blown away by the DVD transfer for Vamps, which is far too inconsistent for my liking. While colors remain vibrant throughout, it's hard not to be a little disappointed by the frequent occurrences of video noise; at times this becomes so prevalent that it is distracting, and in turn loses the DVD some points. The 5.1 soundtrack is pleasant enough, with clear dialogue and a bouncy pop-tinged score, but it's a little front heavy and lacking range. No extras are included on the DVD.
As long as you're not looking for anything with too much substance, Vamps offers lightweight, dare I say fluffy, fun. For everything I enjoyed about the film, which mostly related to the fun characters, I wanted more. This is a film desperately searching for a direction, and though it will undoubtedly pick up its admirers, Vamps seems destined to split opinions.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13