I saw this at a screening in L.A. It was a New Line deal so we had to wait for all of the "important " folks to plant their asses in their seats before the show could start. I was, therefore, really itching for the movie to begin. A half an hour after it was supposed to start, it did, and it was worth the wait.
The intro was amazing. Raquel (Traci Lords) and her date, an obvious "mark," make their way into an underground nightclub, secreted in a slaughterhouse. Once inside the music fills the theater and we are treated to a neat little bump and grind sequence that leads to the initial brain- popper in the film. The banner behind the DJ is lit to reveal the words "Blood Bath" and the sprinklers in the club kindly offer up just that. A shower of blood coats the participants and launches them into an orgiastic frenzy. The reason? The club is populated by vampires and the "mark" is nothing more than a live snack. His terror is handled effectively and we are led to believe that his end is near until the reason for the film shows up. It’s at this point that he real excitement begins.
In a flurry of very high quality sword and gunplay we are introduced to the vampire hunter Blade. Wesley Snipes plays this body- armored, sword- wielding, ass- kicking comic book hero and really seems to have enjoyed the role. He pulls off this four- color character smoothly, mixing a hip look, the classic stoic comic- book tough- guy persona and, thankfully for the martial artist and HK film fan in Snipes, some real physical panache.
Back to the hyperbole and the fantastic intro. Allow me to make a statement. This first action sequence is without a doubt the finest piece of American choreography I have ever seen. Snipes did a lot of the action direction himself and his appreciation of HK cinema shines through in the creative, smooth and exciting moves utilized in every shot. Blade, using shotgun, sword and fist, dispatches about thirty vampires in about four minutes and he dusts each one of them with some interesting twist. The audience, myself included, went nuts.
After this I expected a classic. I didn’t get one. The movie churned along for another half an hour on the same even keel, successfully introducing all of the players; the "baddie" Frost ( unfortunately played by one of my least favorite actors, the tragically hip Stephen Dorff), the "girl" Karen (N’Bushe Wright,) t he "eye candy" Mercury (the, to quote a friend with me at the screening, "yummy" Arly Jover) and the "sidekick" Whistler (played with gruff yet charming strokes by the multi- talented Kris Kristofferson.) It’s at this point, with the setup over, that a dose of formula would have served the film makers well. There is an event (I.E. something bad happens) which in the normal chain of events would lead on a furious path towards the finale and, hopefully, the visceral release so important to the action genre. The trick is to set up the tragedy or downturn and then deliver the goods (the finale) while the emotional need for it is still fresh. This films loses its way at this juncture. It meanders at a snails pace through several subplots, introduces another highly unneeded and downright creepy one involving Blade’s mom and generally loses its emotional package on the way home. This failure, as well as the stereotypical American reliance on CG effects in the second half of the film knocked this movie down a couple of pegs for me.
All in all, however, I really had a good time. Snipes and especially Kristofferson both turn in fine genre performances. The action is, with the exception of a couple of unimaginative hand- to- hand sequences and the unfortunate presence of the American "quick- edit" disease, phenomenal. The incurably wimpy Stephen Dorff even pulls of his role as a Guess- model/villain with a minimum of embarrassing "macho" posturing (although I did laugh at a couple of his "cooler"/ "sexy" poses. One in particular made me laugh out loud as the pouty, shirtless Dorff stares at a computer in a room remarkably similar to the sets of the early ’90’s Calvin Klein "non sequitor" ads which were so successfully ridiculed by Saturday Night Live.) Even with all of the positives I am hard pressed to escape the feeling that this was a very good near- miss. All the elements were present, the execution of individual scenes was, for the most part, excellent and the story (at least the kernel of it) was intriguing and, well, downright cool. It still wasn’t as good as it very obviously could have been and that is disappointing.
This review was originally published on the precursor to DrunkenFist.com in August 1998.