Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Film Review: VAMPIRE'S KISS (1988, Robert Bierman)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 103 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Writer Joseph Minion (AFTER HOURS), Nicolas Cage, Jennifer Beals, Maria Conchita Alonso (THE RUNNING MAN), David Hyde-Pierce, Amy Stiller (Ben's sister), Marc Coppola (Nic Cage's brother), Elizabeth Ashley (HAPPINESS, SHIP OF FOOLS).
Tag-lines: "Seduction. Romance. Murder. The things one does for love."
Best one-liner: "I'm a vampire! I'm a vampire! I'm a vampire!"

You know, I'm not really sure where to begin. This is definitely one of those cases (see also: D.C. CAB) where I'm so perplexed that I just hand out four stars as sort of a knee-jerk reaction. Yes, I am aware Nicolas Cage is insane.

Yes, I'm aware that he CHOOSES to exhibit these affectations of insanity, unlike, say, genuinely bonkers individuals like Klaus Kinski, Gary Busey, or Werner Herzog. And, yes, I am aware that through this conscious decision, he is, in a way, MORE insane than the people I've just named. (Well, maybe not, but you see my point.)

Alright. Now that's out of the way, we can discuss the film at hand. Written by Joseph Minion, VAMPIRE'S KISS amplifies the vague misogyny and obliterates the nuanced humor present in AFTER HOURS (also written by Minion- though basically the first half of that script is plagiarized from a Joe Frank monologue). It's a 'descent into madness' movie, and it's about as hamfisted and embarrassingly slapsticky as a film of its type could possibly be. And as the center of its whirling, lunatic universe is our boy Nic Cage, who has more than a few bats loose in his belfry. Cage eats, in one long take, a live, honest-to-goodness, water-buggin' NYC cockroach.

He psychotically recites the alphabet to make a minor point. He literally screams "Boo hoo" when he's sad. It's difficult to tell if he's playing the role as a Gordon Gecko-type evil yuppie, an English dandy, someone afflicted with Down's Syndrome, or a Keanu Reeves impersonator.

All this is combined with deeply atmospheric music, sharp cinematography, elements of George Romero's MARTIN, and Minion's overwhelming fear of females and relationships to create a work that is utterly, utterly unhinged.

It doesn't REALLY work as an existential art film OR as a piece of entertainment (a dual feat that AFTER HOURS managed), but I really have to give it points for at least succeeding at being as exasperatingly frustrated as its own protagonist. Whew!

-Sean Gill

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