Barely arriving in megaplexes before its self-imposed expiration date, “Wes Craven Presents: Dracula 2000” plays like a throwback to the golden era of ’50s B-movies, when outfits like American-Intl. could get bookings for a film on the strength of its title, before they’d committed anything to celluloid. The “Dracula 2000” plot borrows freely but ineffectually from sources as diverse as “Nosferatu,” “The Matrix” and, no kidding, “The Last Temptation of Christ.” Overall, though, the slapdash pic appears to be the work of folks who made things up as they went along; you might say they were, well, vamping. Expect marginal theatrical biz, followed by a fast fade to homevid crypts.
Wes Craven may indeed be the presenter of this opus and is one of five exec producers. But the credits list Patrick Lussier — editor of Craven’s “Scream” trilogy, and helmer of the direct-to-video “Prophesy III: The Ascent” — as director, and Joel Soisson as screenwriter, so there is plenty of blame to go around.
After a fleeting prologue in the late 19th century, the pic gets down to business in contemporary London, introducing Matthew Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer) as a wealthy antiques dealer whose grandfather was supposedly the basis for the vampire slayer in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” Pressed on the subject, he insists that Abraham Van Helsing was “simply a country doctor who built up an antiques business,” not the heroic figure celebrated in “the ravings of a mad Irish novelist.” Yeah, right.
Not only is Matthew not telling the truth — he’s not even Matthew. In reality, he’s Abraham himself, more than 100 years old but looking not a day over 70. Van Helsing has achieved immortality through the sporadic ingestion of blood from the legendary (and, by Van Helsing’s reckoning, indestructible) Count Dracula, who remains trapped inside a vacuum-packed coffin within a seemingly impregnable vault.
Unfortunately, that vault proves easily pregnable by a gang of thieves led by Marcus (Omar Epps), an American criminal, and Solina (Jennifer Esposito), Van Helsing’s traitorous secretary.
Even more unfortunately, the thieves open the coffin while aboard a plane bound for the Cayman Islands. Out pops a newly revived Dracula (Gerard Butler), who quickly slakes his bloody thirst, then somehow reroutes the aircraft to a swamp near New Orleans.
At this point, horror aficionados might think: “Hey! New Orleans! Maybe Dracula will meet some of Anne Rice’s bloodsuckers!” Alas, no such luck. Instead, Dracula wanders in and out of the Mardi Gras festivities, searching for a unlikely soul mate: Mary (Justine Waddell), Van Helsing’s long-estranged daughter, whose frequent nightmares involving a tall, dark and toothy stranger are doubtless the result of her tainted bloodline.
Van Helsing pursues Dracula to New Orleans, and in turn is pursued by his faithful business associate, Simon Shepard (Jonny Lee Miller), whose boss gives him a crash course in vampire slaying.
Around the time that Simon starts to fire silver stakes into vampirized bad guys, however, “Dracula 2000” gets completely out of hand. Bloodsuckers fly and flounce with all the dexterity that second-rate wire work can provide, and Jeri Ryan (a.k.a. Seven of Nine from “Star Trek: Voyager”) does a titillating cameo as a TV news reporter who’s converted to vampirism. But logic goes out the window, continuity becomes a sometime thing, and “Dracula 2000” lurches from set piece to set piece without regaining narrative momentum.
To its credit, pic provides a couple of intriguing additions to the Dracula mythos, telling the story behind the story of the vampire’s aversion to crosses, holy water and anything made of silver. But that’s not enough.
Attempts at comic relief are mostly lame, usually involving some wink-wink/nudge-nudge variation of “suck” or “sucking,” and the action sequences are uninspired.
Plummer adds a welcome touch of class, despite his struggles with an unnecessary Middle European accent, and Waddell evidences an appealing screen presence. But Miller is inexcusably bland, even as he cracks wise while dispatching bloodsuckers, and Gerald Butler’s Dracula seems more like a peevish male model than a true prince of darkness.
Supporting players — including pop singer Vitamin C, billed by her real name as Colleen Ann Fitzpatrick — try to get into the proper B-movie spirit, but the effort shows. Tech values are spotty, indicating haste and post-production revisions.
For the record: “Dracula 2000” is not the first thriller to bring the Dracula to the U.S. Back in 1943, the count’s offspring ventured into the Deep South when Lon Chaney Jr. played “Son of Dracula.” In 1958, Francis Lederer played the title role in the California-set “Return of Dracula.” And, of course, there was George Hamilton’s fang-in-cheek count living it up in Manhattan in “Love at First Bite.”