Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Cinema File #165: "Vamp U" Review

A while back I reviewed a movie called Liberal Arts, where I marveled at the notion that a movie so boring could have been someone's passion project. In retrospect, I have no reason to think it even was, but I just have always assumed that something so big and unwieldy as a movie production has to at some point be based on a dream to do something really cool, even if the final product doesn't live up to it. I just watched a movie called Vamp U, which despite a notable uptick in quality in the second half might just be my least favorite film of 2013 so far, and beyond being really bad, in fact perplexing and somewhat gobsmacking in its badness in some respects, I just can't for the life of me comprehend how this concept even got past the first outline with anyone thinking it was a good idea.

The premise of this movie, which I have seen alternatively titled Dr. Limptooth, which believe it or not fits better, is like a game of madlibs played by goths, with one jerk in the group throwing in words like "wiener" just to screw with everyone else. It follows an immortal vampire college history professor named Wayne Gretsky who falls in love with the daughter of his long lost love, who is also a vampire, except he doesn't know she's a vampire or still alive, and because he thinks he killed her all those years ago, he has fang impotence, which he tries to work through with a psychiatrist played by Gary Cole. Even if you don't write movies or have any aspirations to (as I do), surely you have kicked ideas around with people about the kinds of movies you would make if given the chance. Does this sound like the kind of thing you would come up with, let alone be excited about?

Maybe it doesn't sound as weird on paper as the actual movie is in practice, but I assure you, watching Vamp U's vain attempts at comedy in the first 45 minutes was nothing short of maddening. The humor is so arbitrary that everyone says things that I gather they assume are funny, and its not even that they aren't funny, so much as they aren't even in the scope of things that I would consider possible to be funny. Its not like they tried to be funny and failed, but more like they tried to be funny and taco. I know its a really cheesy cliche at this point to say that something sounds like it was written by someone who was high at the time, but this does. That's not to say it is so weird that I think the writer must have been out of his mind, but rather, its the kind of stuff that could have only been funny while intoxicated, and nobody tried to proofread the script the next morning in the sober light of day.

All that being said, Vamp U has a weird way of sneaking up on you and becoming a much better movie in the third act. The shift was at least for me completely imperceptible, though I imagine it might just have been the fact that I was not expecting it to get any better, so the shock of it was a bit disorienting. All of a sudden, after we get a clear antagonist and our core group of characters solidifies, the jokes actually started to conform to a structure in which set up and punch line were consistent and logical. Even though the movie utterly failed to do the work of making me like any of these characters, nonetheless I was able to engage with them and appreciate their performances. Admittedly, sucking so hard as to keep your ability to not suck a secret until the end isn't really what I would call an accomplishment, but I have to admit that I was thankful at least for not having to sit through more of the inane bullshit characterizing the start.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if the bizarre unfunny nonsense of the first act is the consequence of Adult Swim-style absurdity run amok. Perhaps it is too dramatic to ask "Is this what Tim and Eric hath wrought?" but we are only now absorbing the work of the first generation of screenwriters raised in a world where awkwardly unfunny equals funny, and making sense is just old hat. It is to Vamp U's credit that the better angels of traditional comedy win out in the end, but it isn't enough to recommend the movie considering how much you have to slog through to get there. I mentioned Gary Cole is in it, and he's always good, and in truth I can see everyone in this movie being good in other things. Just...not this. Whatever this thing is.

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