[Screen It]

(2001) (Kerr Smith, Brendan Fehr) (R)

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Horror: A young film editor reluctantly joins forces with a vampire hunter as both try to track down and kill a master vampire before they turn into such creatures themselves.
Sean (KERR SMITH) is a young film editor who's agreed to take a job driving another person's Mercedes from California to Florida so that he can attend his sister's wedding. Although told that he must make the trip alone, Sean discovers that he's lost his wallet and thus picks up Nick (BRENDAN FEHR), a hitchhiker, who agrees to pay for gas.

As they begin their journey, they spot Megan (IZABELLA MIKO), a seemingly confused and dazed young woman and Nick immediately knows what's wrong with her. It seems that she's been bitten by a vampire and will soon turn into one if Nick doesn't intervene. He knows this because he too has been bitten in the past and has been holding off the transformation with certain drugs while he tries to find the vampire at the top of the food chain. If he can manage to kill that creature, then all of those down the line who were bitten by him, or others infected by him, will be freed from their curse.

Sean doesn't believe any of this until Megan bites him as they try to constrain her, thus infecting him as well. With time running out and the vampires - including leader Kit (JOHNATHON SCHAECH), his lover Cym (PHINA ORUCHE), and their daytime driver Pen (SIMON REX) - wanting to find and finish off Megan, Sean and Nick do what they can to avoid their attacks, and in turn, kill Kit to prevent them from turning into vampires themselves.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
If there's one thing you can say about those in the entertainment industry - particularly those who make movies - it's that they're just so gosh darn persistent. Not letting failure or critical lashing deter or dissuade them, they keep pumping out the product in the best "If at first you don't succeed, try again" fashion. Of course, when they do succeed, they just keep producing more of the same, albeit usually with some sort of "twist."

Take, for instance, the vampire story. It's been around for a long, long time and has been the basis for hundreds of movies, straight to video releases and TV shows. Yet, that hasn't stopped anyone from making more. In just the past decade alone, we've had the serious, high quality looks at such bloodsuckers ("Interview With the Vampire" and "Bram Stoker's Dracula") as well as high-octane action flicks (such as "Blade").

There have also been comedies ("Dracula: Dead and Loving It" and "Vampire in Brooklyn"), historical retrospectives ("Shadow of the Vampire") and younger generation versions (including "The Lost Boys," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and "The Little Vampire"), not to mention all of the standard attempts at making viewers cringe, including the most recent, "Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000." What's next, "Crocodile Dundee in Transylvania " and "Babe III: Pork Sucker?"

Needless to say, and notwithstanding those last two examples, it would appear that just about every variation of the vampire story has been attempted. Well, writer/director J.S. Cardone apparently begs to differ. The creative talent behind a whole slew of films and TV shows you've probably never heard of (such as "Outside Ozona" and "Black Day, Blue Night"), Cardone has decided to throw his hat into the bloodsucker ring with "The Forsaken."

A pointless exercise that's neither frightening nor original enough of a spin on the classic tale to justify its existence or your wasting of your money to see it - despite what the press kit indicates otherwise - the film isn't likely to scare up much business at the box office.

Simply put, a new back-story has been created to explain the vampires who, oddly enough, don't have fangs but still like blood and pretty much otherwise follow the traditional bloodsucker rules with only a few modifications. Such a new back story here - about an 11th century crusade, massacre and visit from Abaddon, the angel of Hell -- is meaningless and could have been jettisoned without any ill effect, as it has very little bearing on the actual proceedings.

They consist of three young adults - played with utmost banality by Kerr Smith, Brendan Fehr and Izabella Miko - and their various encounters with a small pack of vampires that inexplicably drive around in a beat up old car that's constantly breaking down.

One might think that a) such a setup must be the source for humor (it isn't) or b) that a several hundred year old master vampire (that's part of the back story) would deserve and demand a better ride after all of these years. The reason behind the car or why they haven't killed the owners of a Lamborghini or Rolls Royce for their wheels is never explained, but the filmmaker doesn't seem too concerned with such incongruities and inconsistencies since they permeate his film.

Instead, Cardone seems to think he's come up with a novel take on the whole vampire thing by connecting them and their behavior with communicable diseases such as AIDS. As anyone who's ever paid attention to the traditional versions of such tales knows, the stories have always been about eroticism, sex and the repercussions of both, particularly as related to the things one can catch from being "naughty."

In the film's press kit, Cardone is also quoted as saying that he's put a twist on the traditional by having such horror take place in the wide-open spaces of the American West, rather than in the standard, tight and constrained confines of some creepy manor. While the locale is somewhat novel, the end result isn't remotely frightening.

Essentially just a cat and mouse chase story where the "felines" are a bunch of characters that might as well just be antisocial deviants, the film simply isn't terrifying enough, particularly since much of its supernatural trappings have been unceremoniously stripped.

If you want to see a fun and suspenseful film that will have you lifting your feet from the floor, go out and rent "Tremors," a far superior example of showing how wide open spaces - even in the daylight - can induce tension, fear and suspense. Cardone's approach at attempting to generate fright is by using quick and disorienting shots and edits that are supposed to unnerve the viewer, but instead only serve to confuse and irritate.

Another huge problem is that the vampires as portrayed here are neither scary nor compelling enough for them to be effective or have us interested in them. Playing the same sort of intenseness as he did in "That Thing You Do!" - but with half the effectiveness -- Johnathon Schaech ("How to Make an American Quilt," "Hush") is probably the least scary, engaging or developed vampire character to hit the big screen in years. Phina Oruche ("How Stella Got Her Groove Back," "Pret-a-Porter") appears as his lover and Simon Rex ("Snapped") as their somewhat dimwitted "daytime" driver, but neither they nor the few other vampires make much of a lasting impression.

The same holds true for the film's three non-vampire - okay, partial vampire - characters. Kerr Smith ("Final Destination," "The Broken Hearts Club") and Brendan Fehr (the TV series "Roswell") are essentially interchangeable in both their characters and performances. Meanwhile, Izabella Miko ("Coyote Ugly") doesn't have anything to do but run, shuffle, sit or look dazed and/or panicked - when not showing her bare breasts - and speaks in only two scenes that I can recall, with her lack of dialogue and then sudden vocalization never being explained.

That pretty much describes most of the film that's of the variety where explanations are unnecessary afterthoughts, completely overlooked, or handy contrivances that are to be used when necessary (such as explaining that the head vampire can only be killed on hallowed ground, which just so happens to pop up, ever so conveniently, just when the heroes need it rather than having them actively trying to lead the vampire to it).

A lame and poorly made effort, this is a vampire film that's lacking teeth and thus bite -both literally and figuratively -- and is about as anemic as they come. Certain to bleed profusely at the box office before being retired to the video shelves, "The Forsaken" rates as just a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed April 26, 2001 / Posted April 27, 2001

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