Silver Screen: Fright Night ***
It's a cliché to bemoan the dearth of original movies coming out of Hollywood and the steady stream of retreads and rehashes, but, Jesus, are they going to remake everything? Next up on the docket, somewhat inevitably I guess, is Fright Night, the lighthearted, second-tier 1980s horror classic in which a dorky teen comes to believe his neighbor is a vampire, and must recruit the blowhard host of a TV scary-movie series to help him dispose of the creature. It's a fun little cheapie from Tom Holland (Child's Play), a delightful diversion that in no way cries out for a reimagining.
But here we are. Now our hapless hero Charlie is played by the Russian-born actor Anton Yelchin (Star Trek's new Chekov, Terminator: Salvation's young Kyle Reese), and his suspicious neighbor Jerry is a delightfully villainous Colin Farrell. Since Jerry showed up in Charlie's Las Vegas suburb, several kids have stopped showing up for school, and some entire families have vanished entirely-- no surprise in the crumbling housing market outside transient-friendly Las Vegas, explains Charlie's mother (Toni Collette). But Charlie's nerdy former best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse of Superbad and Kickass) is convinced Jerry is a bloodsucking fiend, and he has chilling video to prove it.
To save his mother and his beautiful girlfriend (Imogen Poots), Charlie turns to help from the only man he thinks might take him seriously. In the original film, Peter Vincent, played by Roddy McDowall, was the hammy host of a late-night horror-movie series. Here he's reconceived as an overwrought Vegas stage magician à la Criss Angel (former Doctor Who David Tennant).
Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) actually does a pretty zippy job with this regurgitated bit of pop culture. His dimly lit suburbs are both blandly artificial and atmospheric, with all those manicured laws and dull-white houses dimly lit and strangely empty, as though it was both a vampire movie and a realtor's nightmare. Even his Las Vegas nighttime scenes ooze a cool menace, as all the flickering neon takes on the look of a futile effort to keep away a darkness that descends with teeth. A punchy soundtrack helps keep the proceedings hip and moving at a brisk pace. His Fright Night plays like a smartly executed, youth-oriented take similar to Disturbia’s retread of Rear Window.
The performers are all top-notch, starting with Farrell, whose dark eyebrows, pale complexion, and hint of a widow's peak make him a perfect candidate for a neighborly bloodsucker. He's clearly having fun playing a sleazy, ingratiating monster. Young Yelchin is solid as the lead, playing equally well off Farrell and the amusingly shrill Mintz-Plasse. The scene-stealer, though, is the hilarious Tennant, who is less compelling than McDowall’s cranky Peter Vincent, but much funnier. As the movie wears on and starts to trade in silence and suspense for big effects and action-driven sequences, it's Tennant's good humor that keeps it on the rails.
Fright Night is consistently fun, albeit a trifle. By the time the credits roll, the whole thing seems to have not ended but evaporated like a vampire in the sun, reduced to a swirl of ash in the mind. Yeah, it's enjoyable, but it's another remake, another vampire movie, another in a long line of things we've seen before. As much as one can't fault this particularly movie for the larger tide of remakes, it's yet another wave of crushing sameness.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter @bmillercomedy.