“FRIGHT NIGHT” (2011) – 2.5 STARS

Hollywood is head-over-heels in love with remaking movies from the 80’s right now. So far we’ve had everything from “Footloose” to Total Recall” remade with a modernized story and gloss. Many more already have release dates or are in production. As someone who grew up in the 80’s watching the original pictures, I’m still waiting for one of these recent remakes to really blow me away and make it feel worthwhile. So along comes “Fright Night”, a 2011 version of the 1985 vampire film that I truly loved. The original was a fun and occasionally creepy horror flick that played around with elements from vampire, werewolf, and haunted house movies. It had its share of old-school special effects and classic horror cheese while also maintaining a thoroughly compelling narrative. So I had a natural curiosity and concerns about the remake. Would the Hollywood modernization process be able to capture what made the original so entertaining? Well, not exactly.

The remake’s story is built upon the clever premise of the original “Fright Night” film. Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) and his mother Jane (Toni Collette) live in a small suburb of Las Vegas. An attractive single man named Jerry Dandrige (Colin Farrell) moves into the house next door. Over time we find out that Dandrige is a vampire and Charley finds himself, his mother, and his girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots) right in his new neighbor’s crosshairs. There aren’t many more significant ways that this “Fright Night” resembles the original. One of my biggest disappointments with this film was with how little effort went into building more tension between Charley and Dandrige. The original spent a lot of time with Charley trying to convince his mother, friends, and the police that his neighbor was a killer responsible for the disappearances of many area women. This made for several creepy confrontations between the two. This film gives us only a scene or two of this, choosing instead to jump headfirst into more action-based horror that seemed purposed more for the 3D than deeper storytelling.

Charley’s predicament is so dire that he seeks the help a Las Vegas horror illusionist Peter Vincent (David Tennant). This Peter Vincent is a boozing, profane, and abusive jerk void of any of the sympathetic charm that made Roddy McDowall’s character so memorable. There was nothing at all in this character that was the least bit interesting. To be fair, it’s not that Tennant’s performance is bad. This is a writing issue that’s a direct result of a story direction choice. This is an instance of modernizing a great character from the original story with pretty poor results. And while this is a modernization problem, the movie is plagued by some fairly generic characters outside of Charley. Poots is good as Charley’s girlfriend but she isn’t given much to do. Charley’s mom is about as shallow as they come and then there are a couple of his friends that seemed to be just thrown in. Then you have one of the first film’s more memorable characters “Evil” Ed (this time played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Here he’s actually developed into a fairly sympathetic character before being thrown aside rather quickly. Farrell is fun and sometimes charismatic, but he’s only asked to talk in a creepy tone and wipe his mouth and lick his fingers after “feeding”. It’s a good performance. I just wish he was given more.

The special effects were a big part of what made the first film such fun. It had some over-the-top gore but it fit in perfectly with the story. Here the effects are fine although in several places the CGI is clearly evident. And with the exception of a pretty spectacular car chase sequence, there aren’t any scenes that at the end of the movie really stuck with me. And this leads into the fact that this “Fright Night” just isn’t that scary. There are a couple of loud music jump scenes but in terms of actual creepiness, there just isn’t much of it.

I know it seems like I made a lot of comparisons between the original movie and this new version of “Fright Night” in my review. I try not to do that. Maybe I’m just too big of a fan of the original to help myself. But I also think this film has some flaws that keep it from being as good as it could be. This film’s decision to spend far more time on horror-based action actually strips the picture of the spookiness that made the first picture so much fun. It’s not boring and there are a few good intentional laughs scattered throughout the film. There’s also a fantastic cameo from Chris Sarandon (Dandrige from the first film) that really hit the spot. But in the end, this was another underachieving remake of a really good 80’s movie. In other words, I’m still waiting for an 80’s remake to blow me away.

“TOTAL RECALL” (2012) – 2 STARS

I don’t often consider the “is it necessary” question when approaching a movie remake. While too many remakes can become tiresome and many result in terrible movies, a good writer and director can provide a unique and fresh take on older material. That’s what I was hoping for from Len Wiseman’s remake of “Total Recall”, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1990 sci-fi action flick. Unfortunately, Wiseman’s film isn’t nearly as fun or engaging as the original. It takes away some of the more entertaining elements of the original and replaces them with a nice new glossy coat of paint.

The original “Total Recall” featured some great action and some genuinely funny moments. But it was also a relative to that great 80’s action genre so it had its share of cheese (which I love). This new version has some good action but it loses its punch thanks to its simple and lackluster story. Colin Farrell plays Quaid, an assembly line worker who has grown tired of his mundane life. About the only excitement he finds are in his reoccurring violent dreams. He decides to visit Rekall, a memory implant company who gives people exciting experiences by injecting them with artificial memories. Quaid chooses the secret agent implants but as the process begins Rekall is stormed by armed troops from the corrupt local Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). Quaid shoots his way out revealing a skill he never knew he had. He rushes home and tells his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale), but she tries to kill him. Confused and no longer sure who he is, Quaid goes on the run chased by an army led by his one-time wife.

Most of the movie consists of one big chase. Quaid jumps from rooftop to rooftop, dangles from ledges, and dodges bullets while every once in a while stopping to get a little information about who he really is. Now I love good action but I eventually began to lose interest due to the lack of any real substance. Quaid does run across Melina (Jessica Biel), a girl who appeared in his nightmares, and you would expect her to add a little more to the story. But for the most part, she’s fairly shallow and basically just joins Quaid in being chased. Her character in the original film had considerable more depth. Beckinsale’s Lori gives the action scenes most of their life. She’s tough, mean, and persistent and she’s a strong female antagonist.  But the writing let’s her down as well and even she is one-dimensional.

One thing that I did like about the story was the sci-fi world it created. A chemical holocaust has ravaged earth and there are only two superpowers remaining, The United Federation of Britain which is essentially Europe and “The Colony” which is Australia. The two are connected by a massive elevator transport than runs through the Earth’s core. There’s a political tension between the two and it’s fueled by a strong resistance movement which Cohaagen is desperate to squash regardless of the cost. The special effects and CGI deliver a visually sharp and creative world. The UFB is a fancy, upscale region while “The Colony” has a dirty, over populated, inner-city look to it. Both locations are distinctly different but futuristic in their own unique ways. There are also several technologies that should make sci-fi geeks drool including a cool  hand phone implant and a wild electronic rope gun. I loved the environment and the visuals are truly impressive.

There’s little else to say about the “Total Recall” remake. Farrell tries to keep things interesting but in the end all he’s asked to do is run, jump, and look confused. I mentioned that Beckinsale was fairly fun but no other character really stands out. Even the always good Bryan Cranston is your typical cookie-cutter villain and he’s nowhere near as devious and evil as Ronny Cox’s Cohaagen in the original film. There are a few other things that keep the movie from being a complete wash-out. The special effects are dazzling, there are some good futuristic action sequences, and there are several fun little salutes to the original movie. But in the end there’s just not enough here to make this a worthwhile remake or anything more than a mediocre movie. And that’s disappointing, especially from a sci-fi fan like me.