[Screen It]

(2002) (Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson) (R)

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Horror: A half-vampire, half-human vampire hunter reluctantly joins his prey in finding and killing a new and more dangerous breed of vampires.
Blade (WESLEY SNIPES) is a half-human, half-vampire whose mission in life has been to find and kill all vampires. His mentor, Whistler (KRIS KRISTOFFERSON), the man who invented a serum to allow Blade to be in the daylight - thus his nickname of "Daywalker" - has been missing for years and presumed dead.

Yet, Blade eventually finds, rescues and gives him an antidote to counter the vampirism that now afflicts him. Blade's new technician/inventor partner, Scud (NORMAN REEDUS), isn't thrilled to have the old man back in their fold, but the three soon learn they have bigger fish to fry. It seems that a mutant super-vampire, Nomak (LUKE GOSS), is on the loose and killing other vampires.

Accordingly, vampire overlord Damaskinos (THOMAS KRETSCHMANN) has sent his daughter, Nyssa (LEONOR VARELA) and her co-warrior, Asad (DANNY JOHN JULES), to convince Blade and his team to join the vampires in an unusual alliance to find and kill Nomak before he infects and creates a multitude of other super-vampires, known as Reapers.

Realizing the potential global Armageddon Nomak and the others could wreak on the world, Blade cautiously agrees and then meets the Bloodpack, a group of vampires led by Reinhardt (RON PERLMAN) that were specifically trained to find and kill Blade. Among its members are Chupa (MATT SCHULZE), Priest (TONY CURRAN), Snowman (DONNIE YEN), Lighthammer (DAZ CRAWFORD) and Verlaine (MARIT VELLE KILE), and they're just as unhappy about working with Daywalker as he is to allow them to live.

Nevertheless, the unlikely team then sets out to find Nomak only to discover, among other things, that he and the other reapers are more powerful than originally thought.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
If one were to symbolize Hollywood by a certain animal, the cat would be a good choice. Not only does it purr along quite loudly and rub up against people and projects who/that are successful or look like they might feed the mighty beast, but it will also hiss and swat out at the same who fail or don't meet expectations. Yes, the creature is nothing but finicky, and it loves dumping or rejecting the failed just as much as it does repetition of anything that's triumphant.

Of course, another animal analogy - and one that's a bit more timely and appropriate for one of this week's releases - would be that of the vampire bat. That's because Hollywood has a reputation for sucking the last bit of money from viewers or projects regarding anything that's remotely successful. The latest such "victim" to have greedy fangs sunken deep into its jugular is "Blade," the hip and ultra bloody vampire flick from 1998 that starred Wesley Snipes as a tortured vampire hunter (not related, as far as we know, to anyone named Buffy).

Far more interested in style over substance let alone genuine scares, the film nevertheless was a moderate hit with viewers both in the theaters and then once on video. Not surprisingly then - especially considering that its conclusion left the door wide open for a continuation of the story - the film has spawned a sequel, the imaginatively titled "Blade II" (not to be confused with any sort of second generation shaving device).

Aside from a handful of exceptions, most everyone knows that any films with Roman numerals higher than "I" in them usually aren't worth their weight in celluloid, especially if the original film wasn't that good to begin with.

Yet, upon seeing that Guillermo Del Toro -who directed the terrific and chilling "The Devil's Backbone" - was helming this sequel, I must say that I approached the film with both hope and fear. Could the director take a pre-existing franchise and turn it into something special? Or would he bend to the pressure of having to replicate the original film and thus lose his voice by being sucked under by the big budget, Hollywood system?

Unfortunately, and as was the case with "Mimic" - Del Toro's other Hollywood picture that this one occasionally resembles - the director's unique vision and style have been squandered here. Louder, bloodier and seemingly sporting a bigger budget than the original was afforded, the film is just more of the same old, high-octane mayhem, albeit taken to the next level and with improved special effects.

While the filmmakers obviously know their fan base/target audience and deliver the goods to them in spades, there's little here to recommend. Although some of the stunts and fight sequences are occasionally fun to watch - thanks to the work of Hong Kong choreographer Donnie Yen ("Fist of Fury," "Iron Monkey") who also appears in the film - they, along with all of the blood, gore, violence and vampire effects quickly become monotonous. They certainly numb the viewer into a desensitized state, especially when they go too far and over the top in ridiculousness.

All of which might have been somewhat okay had the rest of the film - of what little there is beyond all of the fighting and goo - been any good. Beyond recycling a great deal of material from the first film that he also wrote, scribe David S. Goyer ("Dark City," "The Crow: City of Angels") introduces a new, mutant type of vampire since simply having the title character continue offing vampires as in the original would be pointless and redundant.

Of course, that ends up applying to what's offered here anyway. While it might provide for more mayhem and effects work, the pairing of Blade with his archenemies to track down and kill the mutants doesn't offer much from a plot or character standpoint beyond a few cutting remarks.

I realize that neither are that important for what a film like this is trying to be and/or achieve, but considering the depth found in Del Toro's smaller-scale films, the results here are all that more disappointing. Beyond the special effects and new ways to off the vampires, little imagination or novelty is on display.

In addition, and unless one has low tolerance levels for monster violence and lots of blood and gore, nothing here is overly suspenseful, particularly since we've seen it and all of the "Aliens" style material and scenes countless times before. Goyer's few decent lines of humorous dialogue are neutralized by some truly awful bits of material coming from certain character's mouths (and I'm not talking about the blood or detachable jaws).

Performances are pretty much what's to be expected for a film like this, with Wesley Snipes ("The Art of War," "U.S. Marshals") and Kris Kristofferson ("Planet of the Apes," "A Star Is Born") reprising their roles from the first film. They deliver pretty much the same takes on the characters as the first time around, with no character development either during the film or when compared to the first. I must say that the most notable thing about Snipes' character is his ability to keep his trademark shades on during all of the brutal fighting.

Norman Reedus ("Gossip," "8MM") plays their new partner, while Leonor Varela ("Texas Rangers," "The Tailor of Panama"), Thomas Kretschmann ("U-571," "Prince Valliant") and Ron Perlman ("Enemy at the Gates," "Alien: Resurrection") appear as some of the vampires who enlist the aid of the Daywalker. Luke Goss ("Nine Tenths," "Love Lives") can't do much with the role of the head reaper, while most everyone else is present simply as fodder for the proverbial and literal meat and blood grinder.

If you enjoyed the first film, you might react the same way to this one as it offers more of the same, but on a souped-up level. Knowing what it is and what's expected of it, the film delivers the obligatory goods, but nothing more. All of which is a shame considering what we know and have seen the director is capable of. In closing with the animal analogy, let's just hope that the Blade franchise, now on its second life, doesn't have 7 more to go, or else Hollywood might run out of fake blood, goo and gore. "Blade II" rates as just a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed March 18, 2002 / Posted March 22, 2002

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