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"DRACULA UNTOLD"
(2014) (Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action/Horror: The Dracula legend is retold, making Vlad the Impaler a family man who seeks to become a vampire to possess the power to defeat an invading army and save his wife, child, and kingdom.
PLOT:
Vlad (LUKE EVANS) is a Transylvania prince who rose to power after leading a revolt against the Ottoman Empire. He grew up in the servitude of the Turkish army, but gained a reputation as "Vlad the Impaler" for his ruthless tactics in battle. For years, he has sat on his throne, kept the peace with the Turks, and been a good husband to Mirena (SARAH GADON) and father to young Ingeras (ART PARKINSON).

But the power-hungry Turkish ruler Mehmed (DOMINIC COOPER) wants to resurrect an old policy of conquest, ordering Vlad to hand over 1,000 first-born sons of Transylvania to serve in his army as he prepares to invade Austria and Hungary. Vlad defies this order, risking his kingdom and people. Having led a recent scouting mission on a nearby mountain, he barely survived an attack by a cave-dwelling Master Vampire (CHARLES DANCE) with incredible speed and strength. Vlad knows that the only chance for his family and his people is to become this creature.

Over the objections of his close advisor and clergyman, Brother Lucien (PAUL KAYE), Vlad strikes a deal with the Master Vampire. If Vlad resists his insatiable need to feed on human blood for three days, he will temporarily have all of his speed, strength, and supernatural abilities that can be used to defeat Mehmed and his vastly larger and superior forces. If he can't, he will be doomed to live out eternity as the most fearsome bloodsucker of them all, Dracula.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
In fiction, vampires' have five major weaknesses. One, a cross wielded by anyone who is a true believer in Christ. Two, holy water. One drop of blessed H20 on a bloodsucker's skin causes immediate blistering. Three, garlic. Yeah, it gives me major indigestion, too. Four, sunlight. And, five, a good ol' wooden stake to the heart.

Unfortunately, by my count, the new "Dracula Untold" has just as many flaws. And that's too bad, because I think there was some real potential here. The first flaw is that the film is deadly serious. Dracula is one of the great villains of all time. But he's always had some style and panache to him. I either prefer my Draculas in the classic sense, dressed like the head waiter at the toniest restaurant in town or as Gary Oldman looking like he just stepped off the cover of a '70s rock album. Luke Evans' Dracula -- er, Vlad the Impaler -- could be plopped down into any "Lord of the Rings," "Gladiator," "Robin Hood," clone or rip-off of the past decade or so, and he'd fit right in. And never once does he make his "w's" into "v's" as in "I vant to suck your blood!" I missed that.

Two, the film totally de-fangs the title character by making him --. yikes -- a family man! Yeah, Drac has a wife and a kid in this flick! No more feasting on young, nubile virgins for this dude. He's got a marriage to hold together and a son to raise. And when the invading Turkish army under the command of the ruthless Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) arrives to terrorize Transylvania, it becomes all about Prince Vlad protecting his family. It's like a 1990s-era Harrison Ford flick with neck biting.

Three, absolutely NONE of the supporting characters has any resonance whatsoever. They might as well be the Old Advisor, the Handsome Soldier, the Holy Man, the Woman With the Long Hair, and so forth. They're rarely even referred to by name, even though each has an important scene here or there ... but only at the service of furthering Vlad and his family dynamic. On the opposing side, Mehmed has at least three really cocky, arrogant lieutenants under his command who are each given their comeuppance. But they never really become anything other than sneering characters who you know Vlad is going to defeat because he has vampire powers and they don't.

Four, the screenplay. The dialogue is very stilted here. And the film's third act is quite rushed. At just over 90 minutes, it feels like some significant portions of this script were lost to get as much action in as possible. And that's a shame,

Finally, there is the action. The first time you see Vlad turn into a small flock of bats and attack an entire Turkish army, it's pretty darn thrilling. Even with the PG-13 rating, there is still a visceral thrill to watch one man take on a thousand ... and win! But this early action sequence about one-third of the way through kind of shoots the film's wad. Director Gary Shore doesn't have any other visual tricks up his sleeve for the film's later action sequences. So, it becomes repetitive fast. And, again, since Vlad has powers and everyone doesn't, there's really not much tension.

The film is not a total loss, though. Evans remains on the cusp of stardom. And I think with the right part, he could really score big. Charles Dance is terrific as the Master Vampire that Vlad goes to be turned into a vampire in order to have the speed, strength, and power to defeat his vastly superior enemy. And the film ends well with a late epilogue that is actually quite lovely in its simplicity. Unfortunately, it's a bit too little, too late. "Dracula Untold" has some teeth, but it has little bite. I give it no better than a 5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed October 7, 2014 / Posted October 10, 2014


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