Sunday, October 12, 2014

“Dracula Untold” Should've Kept Quiet

Oh Dracula. What a scamp he was. Really, you'll forgive that guy for impaling thousands of people, because in this movie he's decided to forget all that and become a nice guy. Really, he's got this hot wife (Sarah Gadon, from “Belle” and completely wasted here) he's really nice to, and he's got this adorable son who he's really nice to. Better yet, that son played the youngest Stark kid, Rickon from “Game Of Thrones,” so you know he's used to being in some pretty stressful situations.

Still not sold? Well, when he takes off his shirt you can see all those awful scars on his back and know he's had a tough life. What? Well, of course you can see his abs. Yeah, they're pretty fantastic, but I wasn't even thinking about that.

But this nice guy, played this time around by Luke Evans, the Bard from “The Hobbit” movies, is mostly known as Vlad, ruler of Transylvania. He really wants peace, but those darn Turks just won't leave him alone. These guys prove they're just the opposite of Drac-I mean, Vlad, by interrupting their Easter celebration, (Gasp! Godless!) demanding their usual tribute, along with 1,000 boys for their army. This doesn't sit well with Vlad, because apparently he impaled all those people after his own father gave him to the Turks, and he was forced to become one of their soldiers. Vlad refuses to give up his son, so the Turks declare war. Vlad knows that Transylvania doesn't stand a chance against them, so he decides he must find another way to save his family and his country.

But he managed to escape from a vampire in a cave earlier (played by Charles Dance, aka Tywin Lannister from “Game Of Thrones,” how exactly do you manage to waste him??!!!), so he goes back and asks him for help. Surprisingly, he agrees, with a catch or two. If Vlad drinks his blood, he will gain great power. And if he can stop himself from drinking blood for three days, he will become human again. But if he gives in, Vlad will be a vampire forever, and the older vampire will be released from the cave he is trapped in to wreak havoc and revenge, all that bad stuff.

Desperate, Vlad agrees, and we are off pretty quick. Very quick, since when he gets back, the Turks are already attacking his castle. So yeah, he has three days to defeat the Turks, and also convince his own people not to kill him. Hijinks!

In order to enjoy this movie you have to accept a few things. Accept that Vlad doesn't go out in the day, but that later on he removes this obstacle by having clouds move over the sun. Accept the reformed bad guy who's completely good again, and thus, the Turks are all bad. And the portrayal of them? At least a little racist. Accept that “Dracula Untold” will use Vlad's historical reputation and try to justify it by saying the Turks made him do it. (I mentioned it was a little racist?) Accept that almost every scene with his wife after the transformation will have him fighting the urge to drink her blood, but he can hug his son without consequences. Accept that he can attack the Turks with a huge number of bats, and none of their little batty bodies will get damaged. Accept that after becoming a vampire, he will retain his personality, but the ones he changes will turn into clichés and decide to kill all humans. Accept that the older vampire won't do anything to Vlad until a few hundred years later?

Action movies aren't known for their sense of subtlety or light touch, so a few plot holes are to be expected. But there's just too much pileup here. The actors all do their best with what they've given, and Luke Evans has the sort of likeable charisma and the willingness to bulk up that makes action movies at least passable. The rest of the cast-including Dominic Cooper as the underexplored Sultan Mehmed-who was apparently once like a brother to Vlad and actually gives the final standoff some suspense-also give it their all, but they can't overcome sloppy, disjointed filmmaking and uneven script (that shamelessly steals from every other medieval action movie made in the last 15 years) in general. On the upside, at least Luke Evans will be relieved that his love interest doesn't have sex with Dominic Cooper like she did in “Tamara Drewe.”

This failure is not only disappointing, it's unsettling, since Universal is apparently in the midst of relaunching all of its monster movies and tying them together, “Avengers” style. The first effort, “The Mummy,” is slated to hit theaters April 22, 2016. If this is what we can expect, they'll be about as successful as DC Comics movies without Batman.

Grade: D

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