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“VAMPIRE ACADEMY” (Movie Review)

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VAMPIRE ACADEMY didn’t screen for critics, and seeing it for review purposes risked the awkwardness of being the only adult male in a theater full of teenage girls. As it happened, the show I attended was nearly deserted, which posed another kind of disadvantage: Perhaps a young fan of the source novel could have explained to me what the hell was going on.

It’s not like the movie itself, based on the initial entry in a popular book series by Richelle Mead, doesn’t try. The first half hour of VAMPIRE ACADEMY plays like they lost the real first half hour, and so had to pack the opening act of what was left with endless explanatory dialogue and flashbacks. And yet despite all the exposition and discussion, it’s almost impossible to get a handle on the inner workings of the titular campus’ society, or what (pardon the expression) is at stake in this story. Part of the problem is that unlike, for handy example, the first HARRY POTTER, which introduced its magical school to us through the eyes of its young heroes, VAMPIRE ACADEMY drops us right into the middle of a saga in progress, centering on Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch), a student at St. Vladimir’s Academy, a school for the partially and fully undead tucked away in the wilds of Montana. She’s a half-human/half-vampire “Dhampir,” and guardian of full-bloodsucker (or “Moroi”) princess Lissa (Lucy Fry).

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For reasons undisclosed at the beginning, but that will be disclosed and disclosed as the film proceeds, Rose has gone on the run with Lissa (with whom she has developed a psychic bond), but they’re tracked down by St. Vladimir operatives just as they’ve also been found by the bad vampires, a.k.a. “Strigoi.” (Those terms all appear on screen when they’re first introduced, perhaps so reviewers like me can get the spellings right.) St. Vladimir’s staff, including Headmistress Kirova (Olga Kurylenko) and Rose’s trainer, Guardian Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky), are annoyed with Rose for absconding with the princess, and also perhaps because she responds to every situation with a combination of snark and pop-culture name-dropping. It’s like watching Juno plus magical abilities and minus the charm, or a supernatural version of HEATHERS without the wit—which is especially disappointing given that Daniel Waters, who wrote that edgy youth classic, scripted this flick too.

Waters’ brother Mark, who himself proved his skill at guiding teen girls with MEAN GIRLS, directed VAMPIRE ACADEMY, and never gives to movie room to breathe. Every scene feels rushed through to get to the next, as if trying to cram in as much of the book as possible, without considering whether the audience will be able to follow along, or why they should care. A few potentially intriguing or amusing subthemes (like vampire fanboys and girls serving as willing “feeders” for St. Vladimir’s denizens) get glossed over along the way, in favor of incoherent drama in which someone seems to want to do bad things to Lissa, she and Rose are harassed by obligatory beyotch Mia (Sami Gayle), Gabriel Byrne turns up looking not at all well as an elder ghoul named Victor and Rose indulges in potentially inappropriate flirtation with Dimitri as they throw each other around and pin each other down on practice mats.

VAMPIRE ACADEMY would like to position itself as an alternative to the watered-down shenanigans of the TWILIGHT franchise, complete with the inevitable line about how these vamps don’t sparkle, yet its own approach to the concept lacks any real bite of its own. It’s so concerned with its juvenile dramatics that any potential horror content only shows up in dribs and drabs, like a bit involving shirtless guys making blood graffiti that seems like it’s been spliced in from one of David DeCoteau’s BROTHERHOOD flicks, and the latecoming appearance of wolflike CGI beasts called psi-hounds (I had to Google that one for the spelling, since it doesn’t get a subtitle). Given VAMPIRE ACADEMY’s status as a wannabe franchise-starter, it’s spoiling nothing to reveal that the ending explicitly sets up a sequel, one that appears like it would be darker and more violent. But this bloodless POTTER-meets-BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER is likely to end this film series at part one.

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Ken Michaels
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