9.08.2011

REVIEW: Fright Night (Craig Gillespie, 2011)

Director of the shockingly not horrendous (thanks in large part to Susan, not to mention her talented Sarandons) "Mr. Woodcock" Craig Gillespie's "Fright Night" remake is, also, not horrendous, though it suffers in a general fashion through being nothing more nor less than, well, a "Fright Night" remake. And that's no slight against Tom Holland's original, which has garnered a considerable cult following since its 1985 release, but more an observation of that forerunner's winning blend of class and kitsch, spooks and sex that casts an inescapable shadow over this remixing. As though someone has placed the ingredients of Holland's film - both itself and its imprints - in a bingo ball draw, such is this new incarnation and thus may lay a key reason for my lukewarm response.

"Fright Night" opens with its strongest, most atmospheric sequence - a balanced blend of source reverence and originality, all rooted in what made many 1980s films so respectively palpable when compared to the contemporary blur of anonymous anytowns. It establishes not only a lasting whimsy but also a surreal sense of Nevadan isolation not unlike that of the forgotten residential development in Alex van Warmerdam's "The Northerners". Then, slowly, we are offered a number of time consuming, cutting room floor-worthy expansions (one involving soon-to-be "that guy" Dave Franco) and almost by-the-numbers plotting that feels at times like a "Disturbia" retread (and, seriously, who would ever want that), revealing the script's barely inspired nature. The plethora of direct references to the original will tickle devotees open to an alternate vision of their beloved (with maybe one discernable declaration of arrogantly self-proclaimed superiority), but from my not-quite-as-enamored vantage all that follows, while not particularly atrocious or abominable or abhorrent (or alliteratively abounding) by any means, is just kinda boring.

For as much as I adore Colin Farrell, who does a fine job taking a more youthfully sinister bite out of a Jerry the vampire, the hunka hunka burnin' Irish love's got nothing on the dapperly turtleneck- and sweater-wearing (and now quite Dennis Hopper-looking) Chris Sarandon's more faceted performance. Toni Collette provides a major draw for me as well, though where the actress has built a career on earnestly playing the homely odd woman out, here her dolled-up cougar could have been accomplished by any actress approaching 40. A convivially straight Midori-drinking David Tennant plays the new millennium Peter Vincent as though Russell Brand spoofing Jack Sparrow, so take that as you will. Finally, while it's probably easy to whine about eternal sidekick Christopher Mintz-Plasse, in what may be an unfair but still a default comparison McLovin pales against the maniacal Stephen Geoffreys.

Is the modern mainstream afraid of psychological sexuality? We get our T&A in super-spades, sure, but is this era doomed to shy from the subsequent inner goings-on? Holland gave us a provocative seduction in his original, a sequence memorable for the fact that our protagonist's love interest is, for one reason or another depending on your interpretation, quite willingly pawned in to the devious charms of another. Here, the same occurs devoid of subtext. Jerry is evil; the girl is a victim, period. There are even rumblings the upcoming "Straw Dogs" remake won't imply but from a sniveling antagonist's perspective that Dustin Hoffman's - I mean, James Marsden's - wife is battling dual mentalities regarding her catalytic manhandling. Piquing subversiveness, thy name is not Hollywood.

Proximately, what's the deal with the further paring of "good versus evil"? The '85 "Fright Night" isn't exactly ambiguous, but we are able to sympathize with both sides as Jerry is given a confidant (in the form of an undead live-in carpenter) and the story often dwells on his attempts to remain inconspicuous. Jerry 2.0 is bad to the bone from the commencement and doesn't hesitate to blow up a whole house before (not) worrying about subsequently blowing his cover.

Now, the 3D. Yeah, I know, but hey, this one was actually filmed in the format! That means Gillespie was able to adjust his stylings on set to better exploit the more evident third dimension, right? Uh... not quite. There are some neat floating embers and indeed the continuous car pursuit footage Wondercon went so nuts about is swell, but otherwise nothing is done that wouldn't have been just as if not more serviceable in regular ol' 2D. Incidentally, this was my third film in RealD 3D as opposed to Dolby 3D and the first film in which I've noted the much complained-about murk side effect of the disposable in-auditorium technology. My first RealD, "My Bloody Valentine 3D", preceded James Cameron's bubble burst, so if the glasses halved the projection bulb's lumens I must simply have taken it to be the film's intention. My second, "Piranha 3D" (surprise, these are all remakes), was disappointing for many reasons but took place mostly during the bright daytime so I still did not recognize any undesired darkness. This time at many points I could barely make out the characters' facial expressions as they appeared as mere silhouettes. Basically, I paid an extra $3.50/ticket to see half of a movie.

As if we needed any, Gillespie's "Fright Night" is definitive proof that Hollywood is going through the motions. It takes what was a prior generation's inspiration and renders it a generic product with glaringly economical shortcuts to contrast the original's inventive practical effects. Wait for DVD or Blu-Ray so you can sit at home and take shots every time some awful computer graphics "pop out of the screen".

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