Vampire in Brooklyn ★★★½

Hoop-tober, Film #18. Wes Craven Film #5
For the longest time, I thought this movie was directed by John Landis. It certainly feels more like a Landis film than a Craven one, though it does have at least one dream sequence, as all Craven's films do. And it features Zakes Mokae, the chilling villain from "The Serpent and the Rainbow" as a character who feels like a cross between Dracula's Van Helsing and Constantine's Papa Midnight, and W. Earl Brown, the hapless cameraman from "Scream" as a hapless police officer. But Eddie and Landis made several movies together (the best of which is probably "Trading Places" and the worst, by far, being "Beverly Hills Cop 3") and this feels like one of those collaborations. Specifically, it feels like "Coming to America". In that film, Eddie was a foreign dignitary traveling to New York City to find a bride. He played multiple characters, one of which was white. He had a lavish apartment in a ghetto apartment complex. He had a manservant to do his bidding, whose character primarily existed to serve a comedic function. Here, Eddie plays a vampire coming to New York to find a bride. He plays multiple characters, one of whom is white. He uses his magical, ill-defined vampire powers to transform a rathole ghetto apartment into a lavish one. And he has a manservant to do his bidding, a character that serves a primarily comedic function. As you can see, there are a ton of similarities.

Of the two, I would say that "Coming to America" is the better film. It's funnier. Well, actually, that's about all I can say as far as its advantages. Honestly, "Vampire in Brooklyn" isn't that bad. For one thing, Craven is a more talented director than Landis and he actually employs a decent amount of visual flair in telling this threadbare story. For another, Angela Bassett is a vastly better actress than whoever played the love interest in "Coming to America" (I don't know her name and, sorry lady, I'm not going to bother to look it up). And I probably cared more about the characters and the story here than I did in "Coming to America". Or, at least, I didn't care about them any less. I've never seen Eddie Murphy play a villain before, so that was an interesting wrinkle to this movie. Sure, he's not an out and out villain. He's somewhat sympathetic. But he's still killing people right and left and draining the blood from their bodies. He sets the hero love interest up to look like a player/fool for most of the film, which is also an unsavory thing to do. And he manipulates poor Angela Basset into loving him and joining him for a life of bloodsucking/immortality. He's not a nice guy. But he is Eddie Murphy, which means I was still rooting for him.

If I'd seen this movie in 1995, I probably would've thought it was an unfunny slog. But that was because "Beverly Hills Cop", "Coming to America" and "Trading Places" were still fresher in my memory. In 2015, however, with Murphy's funniest work in the past decade having been his droll turn in the otherwise forgettable "Tower Heist", "Vampire in Brooklyn" is positively a laugh riot. It's not up to the caliber of Eddie's output in the 1980s, but it still made me laugh more often than I would have suspected. His multiple roles are pretty amusing, especially his turn as an Al Sharpton-esque preacher. And I bought him as the vampire, sketchy Caribbean accent and all. He seduced me, much as he does Angela Basset in the course of this film. But I happen to love Eddie. If I'm being honest, I probably find him to be one of the most charming movie stars of all time. There's just something about Eddie Murphy that I love, something that keeps me coming back time and again, something that even drew me to the theater to see "The Adventures of Pluto Nash". This isn't vintage Eddie, but it IS Eddie trying something different, and I can respect that. He's never exactly scary, but he does manage to be intimidating a lot of the time. I enjoyed watching him here. But I usually enjoy watching him. If I didn't, I wouldn't have bothered with this. I wouldn't have shoe-horned it into my Hoop-tober rotation based solely on the Craven connection and because there are vampires involved.

Craven was trying something different here as well, and I respected that just as much as Eddie's attempt to do something new. Wes Craven does a good job with the humor and he cares enough about things like atmosphere and character that this is ALMOST a real movie. Landis's films, on the other hand, are fun but always sorta seem like a series of comedic sketches rather than real films. And though the movie is never remotely scary, I felt a genuine tension watching to see what would happen to Angela Basset's character. She's the closest thing to a three-dimensional person that this movie provides, and I was legitimately invested in what choice she would make. She's also tougher than the average movie heroine thrust into this kind of situation, which was refreshing. Then again, it's Angela Basset. I doubt anyone would buy her as the typical damsel in distress. The woman is a lioness, which is why I've always liked her. And she's good, and often gorgeous, here. Craven and Basset take this stuff seriously enough that it worked for me. They gave it weight and Eddie made it fun. Also, Kadeem Hardison is unexpectedly hilarious at times as the Arsenio Hall of this picture. He's basically the Renfield to Eddie's Blacula, but he's good and his loss of body parts and ghetto attitude worked for me more often than not.

Bottom line: am I sorry that I watched it? Not at all. In fact, I'd probably watch it again. It's fun. Not every joke works, the horror elements aren't very scary, and the plot is essentially reheated "Dracula" with a reggae slant, but I found something entertaining every moment of the way. If you're expecting anything more than that then (A) you'd be better off looking elsewhere but also (B) you're a moron.

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