Striking a good balance between horror and comedy (with the emphasis tilted to the former), this contemporized vampire tale flits along in entertaining fashion before making like a ghoul and falling apart at the end. Even so, “Vampire in Brooklyn” dresses up Eddie Murphy in an appropriately toothy vehicle that promises to entomb a solid if perhaps unspectacular box office body count, depending on how much opening-weekend bite the star still has going for him.
Helmer Wes Craven may help by bringing his horror-fan following to the party as well, with some of the pic’s over-the-top humor predicated on gore of the rip-out-your-heart-and-show-it-to-you type.
That and the suspense factor may come as a mild surprise to those gearing up for a broader comedy, though Craven always has mixed humor with the grisly proceedings in his “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies. “Vampire” also goes out of its way to showcase Murphy’s comic talents in addition to letting him play more of a character — and a villainous one at that — than we’ve seen in some of his recent films.
Though there’s a joke about the blaxploitation pic “Blacula,” in tone and execution “Vampire” more closely recalls the 1985 movie “Fright Night” in presenting Murphy as Maximillian — a suave, earthy vampire galavanting around New York.
Maximillian, we’re told in an opening voiceover, is the last of a breed of Caribbean vampires, descending on Brooklyn in search of a half-human, half-vampire woman who’s unaware of her lineage to be his bride.
Rita (Angela Bassett) and her partner Justice (Allen Payne) are cops investigating the murder spree Maximillian has caused, with furtive romantic interest between the two partners complicated by Rita’s attraction to Maximillian.
Stealing scenes as the Renfield of the piece is Kadeem Hardison as Julius, whom Maximillian turns into his ghoulish assistant, and his foul-mouthed uncle Silas (John Witherspoon), who’s unconcerned about having a vampire in his building so long as the rent gets paid.
Working from a script by Charles Murphy, Michael Lucker and Christopher Parker (Charles and Eddie Murphy also get story credit along with Vernon Lynch Jr.), Craven keeps the action moving despite some detours allowing Murphy to play other characters, as he did in “Coming to America.”
Though his one-liners and side roles (rendition of a minister is particularly amusing) generate a number of laughs, Murphy proves effective and menacing as the vampire in a rather brave departure from what might be expected.
Hardison and Witherspoon have their moments too, but the heroes prove too vanilla-flavored. Bassett has little to do as Rita, an anemic character from the get-go forced to act conflicted and confused throughout. Payne is equally bland as her partner, and perhaps the most one can say about the pair is that Bassett looks great — and perhaps a bit like her version of Tina Turner in “What’s Love Got to Do With It”– once she gets vampired-up.
The uninspired ending presents a problem as well, sending the audience out on a relatively flat note, though that shouldn’t undermine the pic’s entertainment value until that point.
Production is technically first-rate, from the gaudy costumes to the eerie design and cinematography. The vampire effects and makeup are also impressive, even to frequent visitors of the undead’s borough.