Not to venture forth some sort of radical idea, but aren't comedies supposed to have jokes? Mel Brooks' "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" has its share of misfired gags, to be sure, but what's truly surprising is how little anyone is trying here--there are great, arid stretches of this film in which there aren't even any bad jokes to not laugh at.
Brooks, who wrote the script with Rudy De Luca and Steve Haberman, remains for some reason faithful to the original story, which may bog him down some--all the plot points seem to get in the way of the potential for humor. Perhaps Brooks' gravest error is not realizing that the ultimate vampire movie parody was made just three years ago--it was called "Bram Stoker's Dracula." Compared to that orgy of overkill, Brooks' little trifle is downright tame.
Quickly: Dracula (Leslie Nielsen) comes to London; his mad minion Renfield (Peter MacNicol) is placed in an asylum; Dracula attacks Lucy (Lysette Anthony) and Dr. Seward (Harvey Korman) is disturbed enough to bring in Van Helsing (Brooks), who figures the whole thing out and has the simp Harker (Steven Weber) save Lucy by killing her (in a rare scene that at least gets your attention, he strikes a gusher). Dracula then sets his sights on Harker's fiancee and Seward's daughter Mina (Amy Yasbeck).
And honestly, the movie is no funnier than the above description. All Brooks and his conspirators seem to be able to muster up is a handful of pratfalls and jokes about the actors' bad accents. His direction is clumsily stagey to the point of playing like a high school talent revue. And Brooks apparently harbors an affinity for the Hammer Films of the '60s--the sets and special effects are breathtakingly cheesy.
Nielsen, who presumably did this of his own free will, is frightfully stiff as the Count. MacNicol is clearly the guy trying the hardest here, which means he has a couple of amusing moments but when his shtick doesn't work it's really deadly. Brooks himself earns a chuckle or two as Van Helsing, but Korman, Weber and the rest of the cast simply go through the motions and try not to grimace too much on-screen.
Hard to believe, but it has been 21 years since Brooks' classic "Young Frankenstein." And you can feel every one of those years pass during "Dracula: Dead and Loving It."
* MPAA-rating: PG-13, for comedic sensuality and gore. Times guidelines: There's one scene of spectacular bloodletting.
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'Dracula: Dead and Loving It'
Leslie Nielsen: Dracula
Peter MacNicol: Renfield
Steven Weber: Harker
Mel Brooks: Van Helsing
A Castle Rock Entertainment presentation of a Brooksfilms production, released by Columbia Pictures. Director and producer Mel Brooks. Executive producer Peter Schindler. Screenplay by Mel Brooks, Rudy De Luca, Steve Haberman. Cinematographer Michael D. O'Shea. Editor Adam Weiss. Costumes Dodie Shepard. Music Hummie Mann. Production design Roy Forge Smith. Art director Bruce Robert Hill. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.