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(2010) (Ethan Hawke, Claudia Karvan) (R)

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Horror: A vampire scientist tries to come up with a solution for an epidemic shortage of human blood that will soon turn the otherwise civilized blood-suckers into monsters before resulting in their mass extinction.
It's the year 2019, ten years after a vampire epidemic spread across the globe. Now with most everyone a blood-sucker -- many by choice to gain immortality -- those that didn't assimilate to that state are hunted down, captured, and then farmed for their precious commodity, human blood. The only problem is that with most everyone becoming vampires -- and then leading "normal" business and home lives like before -- humans are becoming an endangered species.

All of which means human blood is running out, a bad development since thirsty vampires soon turn into winged, scary-looking and decidedly less civilized "subsiders" that will attack regular vampires. As a result, one of the leading corporate suppliers of human blood, Bromley Marks, is looking for a solution and CEO Charles Bromley (SAM NEILL) wants chief hematologist Edward Dalton (ETHAN HAWKE) and his associate, Christopher Caruso (VINCE COLOSIMO), to come up with a synthetic blood replacement.

Edward wants to succeed, not for hopes of a promotion or even to quench his own thirst (he want to drink the real thing), but instead to save the human race, a desire he's held ever since his younger soldier brother, Frankie (MICHAEL DORMAN), bit and converted him over to the other side. Even Charles is conflicted as his daughter, Alison (ISABEL LUCAS), is still human and on the run somewhere.

Edward ends up running into some of her kind by accident, and Audrey Bennett (CLAUDIA KARVAN) senses that he isn't like the rest of the vampires. Accordingly, she introduces him to other humans, such as Jarvis Bayom (CHRISTOPHER KIRBY), but also Lionel "Elvis" Cormac (WILLEM DAFOE) whose heart hasn't beaten for years. A former vampire, he now works with Audrey in trying to save as many humans as possible while avoiding the armed vampire military that's always on the hunt for fresh human blood.

With only a short amount of time before that literally runs out and sends the vampire world into complete chaos, Edward does what he can to come up with a solution.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
It's ironic yet not remotely surprising that as the human population continues to grow, greater numbers of animal and plant species become endangered and ultimately extinct. Some may argue that the later condition is a natural rather than man-made process (mainly referring to the previous demise of dinosaurs and other prehistoric critters). Yet, there's no doubt that as man occupies more land upon which to live, food and other natural resources to consume, and valuable commodities to market to others, other living things ultimately suffer.

With such growth not likely to slow down -- as the threat of nuclear annihilation becomes more remote, viruses and such fail to live up to their full potential, and the doomsayers routinely prove to be wrong time and again -- it might not seem too far-fetched that some day in the future we might be all alone. That is, except for animals and plants we farm and raise to feed our own.

Futuristic storytellers, however, often like to turn the tables on us, and that's certainly the case in "Daybreakers," a horror, action and cautionary tale hybrid where humans have become the endangered species. And that's not due to Y2K, H1N1 or Oprah shutting down her long-running daytime talk show. Instead, it's because vampires have become the apex predator on the food chain and those humans who refused to assimilate over to the blood-sucking lifestyle are now hunted down and farmed for their blood.

The only problem is that by everyone trying to keep up with the Collins, Cullens, Lestats and Lugosis, the vampire to human ratio has expanded exponentially, meaning the blood supply is dwindling. And that's turning vampires -- who for the past ten years have been going about their daily 9 to 5 (p.m. to a.m.) lives like normal workers, moms, dads and kids (but with glowing eyes, sharp teeth, and a taste for blood in their cup of Joe) -- into animals (as in winged demons thirsty for any drop of hemoglobin they can lick up).

Such is the interesting initial premise of this film from the brotherly writer/director duo of Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig (who've moved on to vampires after dealing with zombies in their debut 2003 outing, "Undead"). Unlike the recent "Zombieland" that mixed action and gore into its comedy, this offering plays it straight, with some occasional (and quite obvious) social commentary being thrown in with the (sometimes overwrought) drama and standard genre material (lots of blood, bad sunburns and the usual array of wooden killing implements).

That straight arrow approach may just be the film's undoing, for once those little details and modifications to the genre material are introduced (including cars with daytime, blackout operation), it all becomes fairly tedious, and the overdone score, never concerned with subtlety, certainly doesn't help matters. Nor does having the protagonist not wanting to feed on humans (now old hat after the "Twilight" flicks) or that latter group hooked up in enormous "farm" rooms ("Matrix" anyone?).

Although I get that he's playing the troubled and conflicted hero, Ethan Hawke doesn't ever feel comfortable in the role (his character's pain seemingly segues into his apparent attitude about appearing in the flick) and thus doesn't win our emotional engagement or support for his quest. Playing his unlikely partner, Claudia Karvan comes off like a second-rate Kate Beckinsale or Milla Jovovich in terms of embodying the self-capable heroine.

Sam Neill thankfully doesn't go too far over the top as the nefarious corporate villain (although some ham might have helped offset all of the seriousness), while Willem Dafoe simply seems to be racking up as many vampire movies as he can sink his thespian teeth into (after "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" and the far better "Shadow of the Vampire").

Everyone else is pretty much present just to be fed through the meat grinder. In that regard, fans of such grisly mayhem may just be satiated by all of the blood, guts, severed heads and exploding vampires squirting, oozing and bursting about in all directions (it's actually surprising this wasn't released in 3D to exacerbate all of that flying viscera).

For those who don't mind all of that mess, the problem is that it's just not staged that creatively. Sure, there are a few unexpected blow-ups and such that might elicit a "gotcha" chuckle or two, but for the most part the action isn't handled well enough to work on just that level.

Which also holds true for the metaphors and other material about the wiping out of other species, the pitfalls of immortality, corporate greed, or that even well-adjusted and civilized vampires can also become monsters when basic human, um, vampire needs are not met. Clever in its premise and a few details but not doing enough with them to make us care, "Daybreakers" is bled dry of fun or excitement long before the bloodletting truly sets in. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed January 5, 2010 / Posted January 8, 2010

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