A decent finish to a middling trilogy -- though the ending leaves the door wide open for more -- "Blade: Trinity" won't linger in the memory long, but gives pretty good action eye-candy while it's going. Wesley Snipes returns as the titular half-human, half-vampire hybrid battling the bloodsucking underground; comic book author-cum-scenarist David S. Goyer takes over directorial reins with sufficient energy and style. New Line release should provide effective counterprogramming to the holiday season's more prestigious and family-oriented titles, earning healthy midrange numbers before draining rental coffers.

A decent finish to a middling trilogy — though the ending leaves the door wide open for more — “Blade: Trinity” won’t linger in the memory long, but gives pretty good action eye-candy while it’s going. Wesley Snipes returns as the titular half-human, half-vampire hybrid battling the bloodsucking underground; comic book author-cum-scenarist David S. Goyer takes over directorial reins with sufficient energy and style. New Line release should provide effective counterprogramming to the holiday season’s more prestigious and family-oriented titles, earning healthy midrange numbers before draining rental coffers.

Blade-free opening set piece has four well-equipped people dropped in the Syrian Desert, where they penetrate a pyramidic tomb, waking a Devil-looking monster. While scene fades on the intruders, who look like goners, it later emerges they’re latter-day vampires, led by Danica Talos (Parker Posey), who’ve purposely stirred the original Dracula, aka Drake (Dominic Purcell).

Dating back to ancient times rather than merely medieval Transylvanian ones, Drake is more powerful than latter-day vamps, whose lineage has been weakened by centuries of crossbreeding. He can withstand daytime sun, shape-shift, and defy nearly any threat.

Meanwhile, Blade is busy with biz as usual, first seen destroying one vampiric warehouse hangout, then pursuing the escapees in a lengthy car/motorcycle chase that’s too frantically edited to fully exploit its own violence. Resulting spectacular mess worries the hero’s returning sidekick/mentor Abraham (Kris Kristofferson); such recklessness might expose them to human authorities as well as Nosferati.

Blade is duly captured by the feds. But when the interrogation is taken over by psychiatrist Dr. Vance (John Michael Higgins), it immediately emerges the doc is in cahoots with the evil Danica & Co.

Crashing in to liberate the hero — and improbably undetected earlier — are a youthful brigade of “Night Stalkers,” led by willowy action figurine Abigail (Jessica Biel) and wisecracking Hannibal (Ryan Reynolds), himself a “recovered” ex-vampire. After some grousing, Blade signs on when they reveal the new threat posed by Drake, now CEO-like chief of the vampire corporation.

Remainder of the tale is basically a countdown to mano a mano combat between Blade and Drake, with the most interesting segs along the way the discovery of a lab where comatose mortals are kept alive in virtual shrink-wrap for long-term “blood harvesting;” and a dynamic foot chase through apartment buildings between protag and chief nemesis.

The basically pokerfaced, punk-goth tenor struck by these Marvel Comics-derived films means performers are stuck posing and snarling their way through absurd situations, which results in a lot of no-fault bad acting. Sinewy Reynolds is supposed to be the leavening character, but his lines, like everyone else’s, seldom progress beyond cliche and crudity. Nor does the estimable Posey look comfortable strutting through a villainness role that seems tailored for mere bimbo-thesping.

A stony Snipes, Biel, and hulking WWE wrestler Triple H (as a principal vampire) among others fulfill their roles’ primarily physical requirements. Phoning in, Kristofferson, at least, gets excused from future installments.

But then what really counts here is the action and the design package, both coming through just fine. While the “Blade” series’ only truly memorable set piece to date remains Part 1’s “rave” opener, current chapter is lively, flashy and frenetic enough to keep ‘em in their seats. Impressive contribs from lenser Gabriel Beristain and production designer Chris Gorak continue prior entries’ red, black and fluorescent-white aesthetic.

Soundtrack again emphasizes beat-heavy techno-cum-rock, with a facelifted take on the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” standing out.

Blade: Trinity

Production

A New Line Cinema release of an Amen Ra Films production in association with Imaginary Forces. Produced by Peter Frankfurt, Wesley Snipes, David S. Goyer, Lynn Harris. Executive producers, Toby Emmerich, Stan Lee, Ari Arad. Co-producer, Art Schaefer. Directed, written by David S. Goyer, based on Marvel Comics characters created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colman.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Gabriel Beristain; editors, Howard E. Smith, Conrad Smart; music, Ramin Djawadi & The RZA; music supervisor, George Drakoulias; production designer, Chris Gorak; art directors, Eric Fraser, Patrick Banister; set designers, Sheila Millar, Evan Webber, Cheryl Marrion, Andrei Andrianko; set decorator, Tedd Kuchera; costume designer, Laura Jean Shannon; sound (SDDS/Dolby Digital/DTS), Patrick Ramsay; supervising sound editors, Aaron Glascock, Curt Schulkey; re-recording mixers, Skip Lievsay, Glascock; visual effects supervisor, Joe Bauer; visual effects, Digital Dimension, Giant Killer Robots, CafeFX, Amalgamated Pixels, Milne FX, Pixel Magic, Hatch FX; assistant director, Pete Whyte; second unit directors, Vic Armstrong, Edward G. Perez; second unit camera, Brian Murphy; stunt coordinator, Clay Donahue Fontenot; casting, Ronnie Yeskel; Canadian casting, Heike Brandstatter, Coreen Mayrs. Reviewed at Variety Club Screening Room, San Francisco, Nov. 4, 2004. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 114 MIN.

With

Blade - Wesley Snipes Abraham - Kris Kristofferson Abigail Whistler - Jessica Biel Hannibal King - Ryan Reynolds Danica Talos - Parker Posey Drake - Dominic Purcell Dr. Edgar Vance - John Michael Higgins Cumberland - James Remar Bentley Tittle - Eric Bogosian Hedges - Patton Oswalt Asher Talos - Callum Keith Rennie Jarko Grimwood - Triple H Sommerfield - Natasha Lyonne Chief Martin Vreede - Mark Berry

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