Dracula’s brethren get the politically correct treatment in “The Little Vampire,” a mildly entertaining but dramatically messy kidpic in which a poor bunch of misunderstood bloodsuckers, reduced to drinking milk from Scottish cows, are rescued from a fate worse than life by a tyke from California. Based on the bestselling novels of Teuton writer Angela Sommer-Bodenburg, this German-Dutch co-prod, shot in Scotland and Nordhein-Westfalen with an Anglo-American cast, should do OK with its target audience theatrically before enjoying a longer afterlife on ancillary. U.K. rollout by distrib Icon is set for Oct. 20, with New Line due to release it Stateside a week later.
Nine-year-old Tony (Jonathan Lipnicki, from “Jerry Maguire” and “Stuart Little”) moves with his relentlessly sunny parents (Tommy Hinkley, Pamela Gidley) to a small town in the Highlands, where dad has a job building a golf course for the fusty old local squire, Lord McAshton (John Wood). Bullied at school by the Scottish kids, Tony starts dreaming about vampires, and one night aristocratic young Rudolph (Rollo Weeks) flies in through his bedroom window.
Rudolph is a veggie vampbrat who tells Tony, “We’ve been hunted for centuries. We want to become humans, not eat them.” However, his dietary restrictions are taking their toll on his flying powers and, when Tony revives him by directing him to some local cows, Rudolph takes him flying, ending up — in the pic’s most striking visual effect –on top a huge blimp advertising the new golf course. In gratitude, Tony introduces him to Nintendo toys and how to say, “Thanks, dude.”
Rudolph intros Tony to his family: dad Frederick (Richard E. Grant), a suspicious, unreconstructed carnivore; loving mom Freda (Alice Krige); doe-eyed sister Anna (Anna Popplewell); and pesky elder brother Gregory (Dean Cook). They’ve all been in hiding for 300 years, waiting for a comet to pass by which will make them human if they are in possession of a magic amulet.
Unfortunately, Frederick is missing a vital piece of the amulet, stolen centuries ago by Rudolph’s uncle and now, it transpires, in the McAshton family vaults. Worse, a Mad Max-like vampire-buster (Jim Carter) is on the prowl.
German-born helmer Uli Edel — whose bizarre career has encompassed the tough grungers “Christiane F.” and “Last Exit to Brooklyn” as well as the Madonna sex romp “Body of Evidence” –doesn’t seem quite sure at what level to pitch the movie, incorporating adult film-buff jokes alongside standard kidpic fantasy, all wrapped in a never-never world of colorful, old-fashioned stereotypes from both sides of the Atlantic.
Karey Kirkpatrick and Larry Wilson’s muddled script doesn’t help: It jumps around from strand to strand, there are too many underwritten characters, and the scribes throw in chunks of expository dialogue from time to time to explain what’s going on.
Visual f/x, supervised by Oberhausen-based Digital Renaissance, are OK but look a little constrained by budgetary requirements. One genuinely funny idea — flying vampire cows (developed Stateside by Santa Barbara Studios) — is disappointingly underexploited. In overall look and tech effects, the pic recalls the same producers’ “An American Werewolf in Paris,” which also kitted out an uneven script with sometimes striking, more often regular f/x. On the physical side, Jim Acheson’s period costumes for Frederick and company have an impressively faded flamboyance.
Kid cast is variable, with the Brits sounding awkward and Lipnicki chewing up most of his dialogue. As the head vampire, Grant phones in his standard tart performance, and Krige is sadly underemployed as his wife. Carter largely carries the day in a full-on, cigar-chomping turn as the vampire hunter.
The print screened did not include songs that will be added to the U.S. release version, according to New Line.