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Movie Reviews : ‘Best Friend a Vampire’ Is Pleasingly Offbeat

Just when you thought Dracula was down for the count, there’s “My Best Friend Is a Vampire” (citywide), a teen comedy variation on the Bram Stoker yarn. While this concept is enough to make even the strongest moviegoer stock up on garlic and crucifixes, the actual film defies the odds--it has a novel twist and a great deal of energy and polish.

Though by no means a candidate for the comic-horror pantheon of “Young Frankenstein” or “Love at First Bite,” it is a great deal less studied and obvious than most recent parodies. For starters, it effortlessly aligns our loyalties with the poor dope of a kid who’s been stuck for life among the undead. In this outing he’s simply a misunderstood and persecuted minority who must shoulder the burden of an inherited bad reputation.

Our hero, hapless high schooler Jeremy Capello (Robert Sean Leonard), gets drawn into the web of a real female blood-sucker while delivering groceries. She puts the bite on him, but he rationalizes away such oddities as the disappearance of his shadow and a sudden aversion to garlic as mere symptoms of fatigue. What’s uppermost in his mind is a budding romance with Darla (Cheryl Pollak), a cutie in the school band.

The arrival of Modoc (Rene Auberjonois), a kind of vampire tutor, also leaves him unconvinced. It takes an overnight appetite for animal blood to finally get his attention.

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The good news is that he’s not a homicidal maniac in need of human blood, will age but one year every decade and can walk about during the day if he wears sunglasses. The bad news is there’s a crazed vampire hunter (David Warner) on Jeremy’s trail who’s consumed by a passion to exterminate his ilk.

Tab Murphy’s offbeat script is greatly abetted by director Jimmy Huston’s sprightly direction. Aside from the bizarre premise, most of the comedy derives happily from sly observations about the middle class and an acute depiction of a teen-ager’s traumas. There’s also a real sweetness that Leonard and Pollak bring to their high school romance that hits a rare, genuine chord in a genre not noted for subtlety.

“My Best Friend Is a Vampire” (MPAA-rated: PG)--an odd title considering that the story’s not told from the friend’s perspective--indeed sinks its teeth deep into the jocular vein. To all concerned, fangs a lot.


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