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Dull 'Blade'

[whitespace] Blade
Snipes Hung: Buffy he's not, but Wesley Snipes stakes his acting future on 'Blade.'

New vampire thriller doesn'tstick its neck out far enough

By Michelle Goldberg

A SLICK, CARTOONISH bloodfest, Blade could have stood out from the sorry lot of 1998 summer blockbusters except for two unforgivable flaws. This futuristic vampire action film has some fantastic set pieces, trippy cinematography and a few truly witty conceits. But it also has a plot so frustratingly illogical (even for a horror/thriller/superhero movie) that even the most taciturn viewer will be tempted to shout at the screen. Worse, leading man Wesley Snipes, who ordinarily oozes gravity and charisma, is as thick and leaden as Sylvester Stallone.

Snipes' Blade, a brooding human/vampire hybrid, must defeat a group of ruthless vampire upstarts determined to overthrow the older vampire establishment and call upon the mythical "blood god" to bring about an apocalypse that will end the human race. The problem here is motivation. Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), the leader of the renegade vampires, is fond of calling people "food" and "cattle." Why, then, would he want to do away with them? What has he to gain by killing off his food supply?

As the movie begins, a brunette Traci Lords leads a goofy young hipster through a meat-packing plant, promising him a surprise. They swerve past sides of beef until they reach a door guarded by a huge man with a headset. Behind the door, to the guy's delight, is a break-in rave where gorgeous kids grind to throbbing techno. Suddenly, the sprinkler system goes on, spraying blood instead of water onto the ravenous crowd. A sign behind the DJ booth flashes the word "Bloodbath." The guy realizes that what he'd taken for a trendy underground party is something far more satanic, as all the beautiful, blood-drenched scenesters bare their fangs and close in on him. And then, of course, Blade appears, and, because this is a weightless summer action film, the hundreds of vampires attempt to fight him one by one, and he dodges dozens of rounds of machine gun fire, but all his shots hit their targets--and, well, you know the rest.

Perhaps it's unfair to fault such a film for being formulaic, and Blade does deliver at least one big surprise. There are also a couple of other visual treats, including great uses of time-lapse photography, high-speed cityscapes and slow motion.

But while Blade is supposed to be a new kind of superhero, a loner who has as much in common with the villains he fights as with the humans he protects, he comes across as little more than a sullen version of Batman (even his motivation's the same--he lives to avenge his mother's murder). The potentially engrossing, conspiracy-theory aspects of the story are never developed after an early, terrifying scene in which Karen lets down her guard during the day and is nearly killed by the vampire's human lackeys. Udo Kier is, as always, regally creepy as the head of the old-guard undead. But without at least a minimally lucid story line and characters worth caring about, visuals, music and atmosphere combined aren't enough, even for a summertime popcorn flick.

Blade (R; 120 min.), directed by Stephen Norrington, written by David S. Goyer, photographed by Theo Van de Sande and starring Wesley Snipes, N'Bushe Wright and Stephen Dorff.

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From the August 20-26, 1998 issue of Metro.

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