Friday October 27, 1995
"I always wanted to make a comedy and Eddie Murphy always wanted to make a scary movie" is the way "Nightmare on Elm Street" creator Wes Craven describes the genesis of "Vampire in Brooklyn," a film that arrives with barely a snicker or a scare in it.
How can this be?
Craven is one of the masters of contemporary movie horror and a filmmaker who can be counted on, at the very least, to sucker-punch us with a cat or a killer bolting out of the dark now and then. And Murphy has built his entire career playing comically displaced characters; a streetwise Detroit cop in snooty Beverly Hills, a New York beggar passing himself off as a Wall Street maven, an African king who comes to America to find a wife.
The answer is that in merging their interests, Craven and Murphy subordinated their respective talents. Craven, who is used to working from his own scripts, was a hired gun on this project, which was conceived and tailored for Murphy by his brother Charles (he shares the final screenwriting credit with first-timers Michael Lucker and Chris Parker). And Murphy's maniacally hip comedy style is muzzled beneath the Prince of Darkness' gothic solemnity.
The film's two comic set pieces--one where the vampire turns into a fire-and-brimstone preacher, sermonizing about the goodness of evil, the other where he assumes the role of a gamey hoodlum--give Murphy a chance to do his thing, and his legion of fans, whose number is dwindling faster than a summer pond in the Kalahari, may appreciate the break. But these goofy sequences have nothing to do with the rest of the movie.
Murphy does strike a dashing figure as the black-clad, goateed, long-haired Maximillian, the last surviving vampire of the African branch of the Nosferatus, on location from his home in the Bermuda Triangle searching for the one woman on Earth with whom he can mate and perpetuate the bloodline of the Undead. Turns out she's a cop named Rita (Angela Bassett), who considers herself a night person but is otherwise oblivious to her genetic roots in Transylvania.
It's up to Max, with the help of his manservant Julius (Kadeem Hardison), to seduce the independent-minded cop and consummate a marriage made in hell.
It does sound more like "Love at First Bite" than "Dracula," but with Craven in charge of the illusions, and with a budget befitting a star vehicle, "Vampire in Brooklyn" has an ambitiously foreboding appearance. Art directors Gary Diamond and Cynthia Charette's sets--the New York scenes were all shot in Los Angeles--are darkly authentic. Cinematographer Mark Irwin, who did such great work a decade ago on David Cronenberg's "The Fly," has managed a lot of texture and detail for a story condemned to the night. And though the makeup for Murphy's preacher and mob characters is less convincing than a trick-or-treater in a Lance Ito mask, Max's transformation from insouciant charmer to yellow-eyed, white-fanged bloodsucker is pretty cool.
But it all occurs in a thrill-free zone. There isn't a moment of genuine suspense or tension in the film, and the paltry laughs are supplied not by Murphy but by Hardison, whose character, a lowlife Brooklyn habitue forcefully turned into the vampire's bug-eating sidekick, spends the entire movie moaning about his decomposing body and embarrassing the boss with his earthy patter.
"Vampire's" tone fluctuates between the slapstick antics of Hardison and John Witherspoon, playing Julius' fatuous uncle, and the overwrought * danse macabre with Murphy and Bassett. Trooper that she is, Bassett plays Rita as if she were a heroine right out of Greek tragedy, or at least out of a better movie.
Vampire in Brooklyn, 1995. R, for strong language and vampire violence. An Eddie Murphy production, released by Paramount Pictures. Director Wes Craven. Producers Eddie Murphy, Mark Lipsky. Screenplay by Charles Murphy, Michael Lucker, Chris Parker. Cinematographer Mark Irwin. Editor Patrick Lussier. Costumes Ha Nguyen. Music J. Peter Robinson. Art directors Gary Diamond, Cynthia Charette. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. Eddie Murphy as Maximillian. Angela Bassett as Rita. Kadeem Hardison as Julius. John Witherspoon as Silas. Allen Payne as Justice. Zakes Mokae as Zeko.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times