Makes TWILIGHT look good – something I never thought I would say about any movie ever – now please excuse me while I go wash my mouth out with soap.
VAMPIRE ACADEMY is guaranteed to have cineastes and cult movie fans browsing IMDB to double-check that screenwriter Daniel Waters did indeed write HEATHERS back in 1988. Not that HEATHERS was so much better (it’s over-rated), but rather, VAMPIRE ACADEMY gives every indication of having been scripted by someone who never wrote a movie before. It’s a little bit hard to imagine a movie with more activity but so little actually happening, with more exposition but so little actual sense, or with more narration but so little actually worth narrating. It fills the screen for 104 minutes, and that’s just about all it does.
Not to put all the baggage on Daniel, brother Mark Waters directs so badly that even the occasionally semi-funny line falls deader than an anemic vampire bat taken out by a surface-to-air garlic bomb. The forcefully glib tone he elicits suggests he was aiming for something closer to WARM BODIES than TWILIGHT, but the result makes the TWILIGHT saga look good – and I never thought I would say that, but at least those films strove to please their intended audience, whereas in VAMPIRE ACADEMY the Waters Brothers seem to have been thinking they could joke and clown their way through material they clearly do not believe in. (It goes without saying that WARM BODIES is funnier, scarier, and more endearing.)
The story focuses Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) and Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry). Rose is a Dhampir, a human-vampire hybride who acts as a bodyguard for Lissa, a royal member of the Moroi (peace-loving, mortal vampires). You might be wondering why a full-blooded vampire – with magical powers, no less! – would need to be guarded by someone who is essentially human and has little going for her except an attitude and the standard allotment of generic action-movie kickboxing moves. You might be wondering, but VAMPIRE ACADEMY will not tell you.
What the film will tell you is that Rose and Lissa are really close – like, psychically close – but that’s more plot convenience than character development. Rose occasionally acts as willing bloody donor to Lissa, which allows Waters to get off on the usual girl-on-girl fantasy b.s. that male filmmakers like to throw up on screen, but for some unclear reason this activity is frowned upon by the other Moroi (who also get their blood from willing victims).
By the way, the film starts with Rose and Lissa on the run from the titular Vampire Academy, but we don’t know why, and it turns out they don’t know why either, but it’s later explained as a memory block, but why the secrecy would be necessary is never explained – except insofar as, if it didn’t exist, the characters (and by extension, we in the audience) would pretty much know the whole story right from the start.
Instead, the screenplay lets the plot drip like rusty water from a leaky faucet while “distracting” us with “satirical” jabs at high school life, as seen through the blood-red lens of vampire society. (High school sucks! Get it?) Yup, Daniel Waters really is back in HEATHERS territory (one plot development even involves two young dickheads embarrassing the leading lady by claiming to have double-teamed her), but putting fangs in the students mouths doesn’t make the old jokes sound new again.
Nor does it justify the scatter-shot approach of the script. There’s some stuff about Lissa standing up for herself instead of relying on Rose to fight her battles, but that’s bad for some reason or other. Also, Lissa wants to be popular, but that’s bad because …. HEATHERS!!!! Rose falls for a hunky Dhampir named Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky) – because after all this is the paranormal romance genre. And don’t forget (no matter how much the film almost does) Rose and Lissa had run away from the academy to avoid some shrouded danger lurking with its halls.
These random narrative “developments” characterize VAMPIRE ACADEMY pretty much from beginning to end. Someone is somewhere doing something for some reason; somebody says something about why they’re doing it; then they do something else for some other reason that has little or nothing to do with what they were doing before, but somebody else says something new about what they’re doing now. It doesn’t take long before you feel as if the film is simply jumping around from scene to scene – and sometimes jumping around within scenes – in a frantic attempt to suggest that there really is a movie going on up there. Alas, no…
VAMPIRE ACADEMY trots out the obligatory genre elements, but none of them work well enough to please even the most undiscriminating fans. The romance is as cold as the grave. The performances are embalmed. And the action has all the dexterity of a corpse with rigor mortis. In a sadly botched opportunity, Rose occasionally attacks fellow Dhampir Dimitri, to keep him on his toes – rather like Kato used to attack Inspector Clouseau in the PINK PANTHER sequels; unfortunately, Waters seems to think that simply rerunning the concept is funny in and of itself, without bothering to stage any of the hysterically extravagant slo-mo kung fu that made the gag funny in the PANTHER movies.
Deutch is pretty but not funny – essentially from the Kristen Stewart school of acting, though thankfully without the blank, gap-mouthed stare. Fry at least has the British accent to suggest something like a performance. Gabriel Byrne collects a paycheck and makes you wonder why he’s not in something better.
When VAMPIRE ACADEMY finally wanders around to the climax, a glimmer of competence emerges, thanks to a half-way decent final confrontation with a Strigoi (an undead vampire), but any flicker of audience good will is immediately extinguished by the most vile of insults: the “surprise” coda shouting that the filmmakers intend a sequel whether you want one or not. It is perhaps telling that this scene takes place immediately after the main action, before viewers could walk out during the credits. In a rare moment of clarity, the filmmakers realized that nobody would be eagerly waiting around to see whether a tag for a sequel would pop up just before the final fade out.
0 out of 5 stars – Absolutely bloodless!
VAMPIRE ACADEMY (February 8, 2014, The Weinstein Company). Directed by Mark Waters. Screenplay by Daniel Waters, based on the novel by Richelle Mead. Cast: Zoey Deutch as Rose Hathaway. Lucy Fry as Lissa Dragomir. Danila Kozlovsky as Dimitri Belikov. Gabriel Byrne as Victor Dashkov; with Dominc Sherwood, Olga Kurylenko, Joely Richardson. 104 minutes. PG-13