'Daybreakers'

The novel hook has nearly all humanity turned vamp.

Take the futuristic corporate malfeasance of “The Matrix” and the race to find the post-plague cure of “28 Days Later,” add vampires, and you’ve got “Daybreakers,” the sophomore feature for twin Aussie writer-directors Michael and Peter Spierig (following cheeky 2003 zombie flick “Undead”). The novel hook has nearly all humanity turned vamp, with the mortal population — and their valuable blood — thus nearing extinction. However, the script doesn’t wring many surprises or much character involvement from the premise, and the brothers’ helming, while slick, is short on scares, action setpieces and humor. Lionsgate plans a January Stateside release for this Australia-U.S. co-production; prospects look decent but unspectacular in all markets.

It’s 2019, 10 years after an infection began turning most folks into bloodsuckers and the holdouts into fugitives — or comatose captives farmed for blood by Bromsley Marks Corp. The shortage of blood is causing worldwide panic as the undead populace, starved for the vital fluid, mutate into grotesque, batlike “subsiders.”

CEO Charles Bromsley’s (Sam Neill) chief hematologist is Edward (Ethan Hawke), who’s working on an artificial blood substitute. While a vampire himself, Edward is in sympathy with the humans, helping a group of them elude capture after a car accident. As a result of this good deed, Audrey (Claudia Karvan) introduces him to Lionel, aka “Elvis” (Willem Dafoe), who’s stumbled upon a possible cure that makes vampires mortal again.

Unfortunately, Edward’s younger brother, Frankie (Michael Dorman), a gung-ho loyalist to the human-hunting Vampire Army, has trailed him to this meeting — with reinforcements. The rest of the pic sees Edward, Elvis and Audrey trying to keep one step ahead of their pursuers while experimenting with the (awfully simple) means by which this vampire world might become a healthy human one again. Predictably, bottom-line-oriented corporate types don’t want that to happen.

This strand could be a useful metaphor for, say, global warming and environmental depletion — as companies continue to despoil resources whose exhaustion could imperil planetary life itself. But “Daybreakers” doesn’t evince much interest in exploiting its premise for sociopolitical commentary, or even having fun with the way in which vampire life hasn’t really changed much about everyday (or rather, every-night) behavior.

As a result, it becomes a movie that inadvertently asks the question: If you make vampires so ordinary that they’re no longer scary, seductive or endowed with special powers, what’s the point in having them at all?

Indeed, despite its fantasy trappings — vampire-eye contacts, a cold, steely blue, black and gray “Matrix”-y look, etc. — “Daybreakers” emerges as a competent but routine chase thriller that lacks attention-getting dialogue, unique characters or memorable setpieces that might make it a genre keeper rather than a polished time-filler.

Reflecting their uninspired material, thesps deliver adequate clock-punching perfs, though miscast Dafoe’s quipping yokel needn’t be included in his resume. Production values are glossy; Christopher Gordon’s orchestral score takes matters seriously.

Though shot in Australia, the pic goes for a nonspecific setting and American accents.

Daybreakers

U.S.- Australia

Production

A Lionsgate (in U.S.) release of a Lionsgate (U.S.)/Film Finance Corp. (Australia) presentation of a Lionsgate (U.S.)/Paradise (Australia) production in association with the Pacific Film and Television Commission and Furst Films. (International sales: Mandate Intl., Santa Monica, Calif.) Produced by Chris Brown, Bryan Furst, Sean Furst. Executive producers, Jason Constantine, Peter Block. Co-producer, Todd Fellman. Directed, written by the Spierig Brothers.

Crew

Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Ben Nott; editor, Matt Villa; music, Christopher Gordon; production designer/costume designer, George Liddle; art directors, Bill Booth; set decorator, Matt Putland; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), Wayne Pashley; special makeup FX, Steven Boyle; second unit director, Ian "Thistle" Thorburn; casting, Nikki Barrett. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Midnight Madness), Sept. 12, 2009. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Claudia Karvan, Isabel Lucas, Sam Neill, Michael Dorman, Vince Colosimo.

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