Livelier and more amusing than its studio's advance-screening ban suggested, "Vampire Academy," based on the bestselling tween book series by Richelle Mead, should largely satisfy fans of the seemingly unkillable parade of hot-young-vampire tales.
That said, this likable comedic-thriller is something of a narrative mishmash as the script by Daniel Waters ("Heathers") continually strains to explain — and then make good on — the dense ins and outs of Mead's secret society of good and bad vampires.
To that end, there are apparently three kinds of vamps: the mortal, peaceful Moroi; the Dhampirs, which are the Moroi's half-vampire/half-human guardians; and the Strigoi, your standard issue evil, undead bloodsuckers. There's more that distinguishes each tribe, particularly where the supply and demand of blood is concerned, but too much description here may only confuse what's already confusing.
The story itself involves an atypical pair of 17-year-old BFFs: Rose (Zoey Deutch), a Dhampir whose life mission is to protect Lissa (Lucy Fry), a royal Moroi princess whose family was killed in a pivotal car crash. At the film's start, Rose and Lissa, who have been on the run for awhile (another long story), are returned to their Hogwarts-esque vampire school tucked away somewhere in Montana (the movie was shot in Britain) This academy, known as St. Vladimir's, is a lot like high school — cliques, gossip, rivalries — except kids magically set stuff on fire, take "vampire fighting" instead of gym and, romantically, "fang-up."
Unfortunately, the plot, which finds Rose training to assure her role as Lissa's guardian, Lissa re-navigating her place in Moroi society, and the ever-present threat of marauding Strigoi keeping everyone on high alert, never quite gels. As a result, the movie takes on a kind of "anything goes" quality as it barrels toward its speedy conclusion (and, not for nothing, paves the way for a sequel).
Director Mark Waters (Daniel's brother) of "Mean Girls" fame keeps the mayhem and magic moving apace so things are never boring; head-scratching maybe, but never boring. Still, the film's many fight scenes feel less than authentic, more dependent on sound effects and cagey editing than on visual or athletic prowess.
As Rose, Deutch (the daughter of actress Lea Thompson and director Howard Deutch) is enjoyably formidable, bringing beauty, smarts and charisma to her all-purpose heroine. Deutch also knows her way around a one-liner, of which there are many decent ones here.
The rest of the cast, which includes Gabriel Byrne as a dying Moroi leader, Sarah Hyland (from TV's "Modern Family") as his ditsy daughter, Joely Richardson as a kindly queen, Danila Kozlovsky as Rose's hunky mentor and Dominic Sherwood as Lissa's teen-dreamy love interest, is a bit more forgettable. Or maybe Deutch is just that much more memorable.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violence, bloody images, sexual content and language
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Playing: In general release