Memphis Flyer

DIRECTED BY: Stephen Norrington

REVIEWED: 08-31-98

Blade clearly has ambitions to be all things to all people, and its gory smorgasbord offers up just enough of three of the major film food groups to keep the late-summer lines coming – traditional horror, special effects-enhanced martial arts/ action, and comic-book violence. For those who consider the first genre to be the real red meat of the matter, and who accept the latter two only as discreet condiments, the film starring Wesley Snipes and Stephen Dorff may leave the appetite keenly whetted but only partially sated.

Although the scenes of vampires exploding like metastasized bunches of grapes are fun the first time, they become less so after the 10th, and the comic-book distancing – while welcome amid all the grisly bloodletting – deflates the film’s more absorbing atmospherics. Blade is at its best when it’s long in the tooth. The script, by David S. Goyer, is intriguing enough, and when he’s not orchestrating the combat scenes and special effects, director Stephen Norrington gives the tale an edgy naturalism that, in proper horror-movie tradition, heightens our sense of dread and makes the horror palpable. The production design is architecturally remarkable and eerily evocative. And some of the special effects and camera work, when in service to character and mood, are brilliant. Action fans and older teens will, no doubt, glory in the pumped-up episodes of martial arts and would-be witty mayhem, but many viewers may find them a distraction from – and, as they begin to repeat with little variation, a drain on – the film’s more seductive elements. Traditionalists may feel the film wimps out on its early promise of real darkness, a creepy potential for real threat.

Snipes is Blade, a half-vampire whose mother was bitten while pregnant. He has fought his darker half with steely determination and daily infusions of serum, and is on a crusade to rid the world of vampires. Dorff plays Deacon Frost, a sleazy, anarchical bloodsucker who is plotting to overthrow the aristocratic establishment of vampires which has ruled for centuries; he needs the half-breed blood of Blade for his scheme to work. Needless to say, they go at it tooth and nail. Snipes is fine, Dorff even better – he makes your flesh crawl with his soulless cynicism, scruffy slouch, and sunken, vacant eyes.

Like the schizoid DNA of its hero, Blade is only a half-vampire movie. Its other generic personality traits will no doubt appeal to the filmmakers’ various demographic targets. Horror purists, however, may find that its hyperactivity clots the imagination.

--Hadley Hury

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