It was almost touching to reach the end of Mark Waters’ Vampire Academy and find that it not only left itself open for a sequel, but seemed so certain of that eventuality that it set one up. This is what is known as unwarranted optimism. I grant you that 11:30 a.m. on a Saturday is not prime viewing time for such a would-be teen-centric cinematic experience, but considering that my wife, one other hapless critic and I were the entire audience, no one was beating a path to the door. While this afforded us a certain freedom to comment — not to mention laugh in inappropriate places — it perhaps doesn’t bode well for that sequel. However, Vampire Academy apparently cost little to make — the effects attest to this — and it may not take much to put it in the black.
Now, I can’t say I actually minded sitting through Suckula … er Vampire Academy, but far too much of the entertainment (or perhaps more accurately, amusement) lay in marveling at how such a moronically simple story could be told in such a confusingly overcomplicated manner. The problem stems from the fact that the movie doesn’t set things up, but instead dumps the viewer into the thick of the story and slowly doles out the requisite information. It’s a nice trick if you pull it off, but here it’s all Night of the Living Dead Expository Writing. Still, that might have worked to some degree if anything of real note or originality was revealed along the way.
The basics are very simple: There are three kinds of vampires as the film defines them. There are the Moroi, who are kind of the human-friendly Cullens of this world. They do not, however, feed on animals, but on willing groupies — probably made up of overzealous Twihards — who are neither drained, nor transformed. (Honest, I’m not making this up.) Then we have the Dhampir. They are basically familiars (like Dracula’s sidekick, Renfield), except they’re half-breeds who fight like escapees from a kung-fu movie in order to protect the Moroi. Protect them from what? The Strigoi, of course. These are the really nasty vampires who mostly sound like heavy phone-breathers and are out to kill off the Moroi. Why? Well, that I never got. There’s also a bunch of sub-magic characters with names that would make J.K. Rowling giggle. Top this off with a bunch of transparent, vampire-royalty chicanery (really, if you can’t spot the surprise villain, you ought to be ashamed), lashings of unpersuasive teenage romance and high school shenanigans, and there you find the bitter truth: None of this was worth unraveling.
The film is mostly populated with nice-looking people you have never heard of. Probably the biggest name in the young person cast is Modern Family‘s Sarah Hyland as the school nerd. The bulk of the adult heavy lifting falls on Gabriel Byrne as an ailing Moroi royal, and he’s as good as the part requires him to be. Joely Richardson shows up twice (my guess is that both scenes were shot on the same day) as the inexplicably bitchy queen of the Moroi. Unlike Byrne, she barely bothers to try. (It’s not hard to understand why that may be.) The younger cast members do what they can, but they’re up against a script that gives them very little to work with. On paper, this movie probably sounded promising — Mark Waters returns to Mean Girls (2004), only at a school for vampires. In practice, Vampire Academy falls flat. There’s no inspiration, no joy and not very much humor — at least intentional humor. On the plus side, it looks nice (apart from the cheesy CGI) and is professionally made. That, of course, means that Devil’s Due is still the yardstick for 2014 crapfests. Rated PG-13 for violence, bloody images, sexual content and language.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.