Not Much Bite in This Vampire Film
You want vampires? “Queen of the Damned” has vampires. Lots and lots of vampires.
As enumerated in the credits, there are New York Vampires and Euro Trash Vampires, a Vampire in the Park and a Pale Faced Vampire, Club Vampires and a Vampire Doorman, even a simple Vampire Girl, not to be confused with Vampire Girls Sucking. Etc. What there aren’t, either in the credits or, more critically, on the screen, are Scary Vampires, Exciting Vampires or even any Vampires Interesting Enough To Keep You From Falling Asleep.
As directed by Michael Rymer and with the late rock star Aaliyah in the title role, “Queen of the Damned” turns out to be a muddled limp biscuit of a movie, a vampire soap opera that doesn’t make much sense even on its own terms. Though the previous film based on Anne Rice’s popular novels, the Tom Cruise-starring “Interview With the Vampire,” was far from a success, this brain-dead venture makes it look like a masterwork by comparison.
Instead of Cruise, it’s Irish actor Stuart Townsend taking on the role of the Vampire Lestat, neurasthenically slouching around the screen like a fatigued and fey Gumby. “I’ve hidden in the shadows for centuries,” he haughtily announces. It’s time for a change of life.
Given that vampires have no trouble staying up late, Lestat quite sensibly decides on a new career as a rock star. Soon he is up to his fangs in groupies (“I came all the way from Tarzana,” one of them memorably announces) but even this doesn’t bring contentment. As revealed in an extensive flashback, Lestat has never been a happy vampire. He’s never agreed with the discreet Marius (Vincent Perez), the man who turned him into one of the undead, that “a vampire’s life is a life of discretion.”
The only thing that brings a smile to Lestat’s face is a brief moment sucking the blood of long-dead vampire royalty Queen Akasha (Aaliyah), costumed like someone who wandered in from the set of “The Mummy.” “Her blood is like liquid fire,” he enthuses, while Marius, always a nervous Nellie, can only say, “What have you done, Lestat?”
Now, by going public with his vampire status and announcing a concert at (where else but) Death Valley, Lestat wants to out all the world’s vampires, like it or not. Naturally, he gets considerable attention, including some he didn’t plan on. That would be from the attractive Jessie, who looks like Little Miss Muffet (actress Marguerite Moreau starred in three “Mighty Ducks” movies as a child) but has lots of forbidden thoughts.
A renegade member of the Talamascans, an organization whose motto is “Observe the dark realm but be not of it,” she wants to become a vampire in the worst way. But though Lestat takes her on a vampire date to the Griffith Park Observatory, he is reluctant to do the deed.
Once Lestat’s Death Valley concert gets going, things get even more confusing. Does Lestat want to run off with Jessie or unite with Queen Akasha and become part of the ultimate vampire power couple? Does he want to take a stand against all other vampires or unite with them against a common threat? You’ll wish you had a scorecard to help you figure out who is biting whom and why.
Speaking of biting, while “Queen of the Damned” has no lack of flashing fangs and pointed teeth, it’s rather decorous in its treatment of blood. And though the film pays a lot of attention to its look, it’s more concerned with surface decor than with any real sense of style. Similarly, “Queen’s” acting so plays up the campy aspects of the Scott Abbott and Michael Petroni script (“Two hundred years and not a word from you,” Lestat grouses at one point) that it’s hard to be involved.
Because of the tragic aspects of her death, most audience interest will be in Aaliyah, but her largely nonspeaking part is more like a modeling assignment than actual acting. It’s not just, as Lestat grumbles, eternity that’s unbearable; it’s films like this as well.
MPAA rating: R, for vampire violence. Times guidelines: bloody and disconcerting, but not excessively so.
‘Queen of the Damned’
In association with Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment, a Material production, released by Warner Bros. Pictures. Director Michael Rymer. Producer Jorge Saralegui. Executive producers Su Armstrong, Andrew Mason, Bill Gerber, Bruce Berman. Screenplay Scott Abbott and Michael Petroni, based on “The Vampire Chronicles” by Anne Rice. Cinematographer Ian Baker. Editor Dany Cooper. Costumes Angus Strathie. Music Richard Gibbs, Jonathan Davis. Production design Graham “Grace” Walker. Art director Tom Nursey. Set decorator Brian Dusting. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.
In general release