Undead, or just misunderstood?
[Photo: New Line Cinema]
Tony Thompson (Jonathan Lipnicki), left, and Rudolphs father (Richard E. Grant) share a tense moment in The Little Vampire.
By STEVE PERSALL
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 26, 2000
Vampires are people too. At least, they would like to be human. If you can't eat them, join them.
The Little Vampire has seasonal potential as the story of a vampire clan trying to co-exist with humans.
That's the idea behind The Little Vampire, a family-friendly fantasy with a long future as a Halloween offering on basic cable. For years, Jonathan Lipnicki will be cute, long after Jerry Maguire's bespectacled buddy discovers contact lenses and loses that lisp.
Lipnicki plays Tony Thompson, an American living in Scotland with distracted parents. Tony has nightmares about a vampire clan gathering and a comet passing by the moon. Wouldn't you know it? That astronomical phenomenon is coming around again after 300 years.
Nobody believes Tony, especially schoolyard bullies who shove him around for sympathy's sake and a payback later. It may be just imagination, until a bat flies into his fireplace and transforms into a real-life Lost Boy. Not on-screen, of course. This movie doesn't have that kind of special effects budget.
The little bloodsucker is Rudolph (Rollo Weeks), who resembles Corey Feldman trick-or-treating as Adam Ant. Rudolph's family is weary of being chased by Walker, Vampire Ranger, played grubbily by Jim Carter. If they could only get their claws on a magic amulet, the undead could be upwardly mobile like real people. Walker prefers to kill off the species. Stakes are high, wooden and pointy.
Performances are capably one-dimensional, especially Lipnicki's gee-whiz enthusiasms. Richard E. Grant lends his stuffy Warlock rhythms to the show as Rudolph's father. Weeks displays a glimmer of potential in pallid makeup and shadowy lighting.
This film needs some rousing episodes to hold attention for 94 minutes. Director Uli Edel has been known for sexually charged dramas (Last Exit to Brooklyn, Body of Evidence) and gritty television (Oz, Homicide: Life on the Street). He's an odd choice to create a PG fantasy, causing the film to be thematically off-balance. The material isn't handled light-heartedly enough to be fun or seriously enough to frighten. The Little Vampire simply gets the slim story told, no more amusingly than a Disney Channel movie.
The lone exception is a running gag about cows used by vampires as a blood source in place of humans. Rudolph slurping a snack from a cow's neck is off-putting at first. But, taking that liberty with legend escalates into a pack of bovine vampires with more Dracula-type characteristics than the film's flesh-and-whatever versions. Two laughs in the entire movie, and both come from undead cows.
The Little Vampire isn't dull or dumb, but it isn't anything to rush out and pay full ticket prices to see. Home video will arrive soon enough. Stall the kids until Nov. 1 and they won't care, anyway.
The Little Vampire
- Grade: C
- Director: Uli Edel
- Cast: Jonathan Lipnicki, Richard E. Grant, Rollo Weeks, Jim Carter, Alice Krige, John Wood
- Screenplay: Karey Kirkpatrick, Larry Wilson, based on the books by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg
- Rating: PG; mild violence, scary images
- Running time: 94 min.
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