I’ve never been one to root for the bad guy, but lately, it’s been happening more and more. It may have something to do with being a life-long Yankee fan and having to get used to Alex Rodriguez. More likely, it could be the fact that more and more movies are being made where better, more charismatic actors are being pitted against comparively duller stars. Admittedly, I haven’t seen the recent bombs The Killer Elite or Abduction, but I find it impossible to believe I’d ever be pulling for Jason Statham or Tyler Lautner to win against their respective adversaries in those movies, Clive Owen and Alfred Molina.
So now here comes a movie where Anton Yelchin (of Star Trek, The Beaver, and The Smurfs) faces off against Colin Farrell (of far more awesomeness than you may think).
Colin Farrell has become one of my favorite movie stars, with a increasingly-unerring track record of appearing in movies I enjoy, which is weird since I feel as if I’m meant to hate the guy. He’s not much older than I am, yet he’s traveled the world several times over while making movies with many personal creative heroes of mine — including Michael Mann, Steven Spielberg, and Al Pacino — and he’s probably hooked up with more world-class beauties than I’ve even had time to fantasize about. I like to root for the underdog, and it’s hard to root for the guy who’s already ahead. Colin Farrell has pulled pretty far ahead in the marathon of life. By all reasonable markers, I should hate this dude. But I don’t. At all. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Also know that as much credit as Jeff Bridges got and deserved for his performance in Crazy Heart, that’s how much Colin Farrell’s performance was underrated in the same movie. People don’t even seem to remember he was in that one! Farrell also played in Robert Towne’s adaptation of one of my favorite books of all time, Ask The Dust, and will be seen soon enough in a crime film from another great screenwriter, William Monahan, in Monahan’s directorial debut London Boulevard.
The point is, the man is pretty damn good at his job.
And he’s the best reason to see Fright Night, which, as horror fans know, is a remake of a cult favorite from the 1980s. The first Fright Night came out in 1985. It’s about a high school kid and horror-movie fanatic who discovers that his next door neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon, Prince Humperdinck from The Princess Bride) is a vampire for real. His girlfriend doesn’t believe him, but his weird friend “Evil Ed” does. Eventually, the kid seeks out the help of a faded horror-movie star and late-night TV host, Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall from Planet Of The Apes) to save his neighborhood from Jerry. Fright Night has a fun, silly premise, and the original was enjoyable, but I’m not one of its many diehard fans. I liked it just fine, but it doesn’t bother me to see it remade. It’s no classic (not like some other recent remake victims I could mention…)
Fright Night 2011 stars Anton Yelchin as the main kid, Charley. He lives in a suburb of Las Vegas with his mom (Toni Collette, in a lateral move from playing the mom of the kid from The Sixth Sense) . Charley used to be a geek, but he sprouted over the summer, got a cute girlfriend (Imogen Poots, whose name is a sentence), made friends with the popular kids (including Dave Franco, James’s brother), and stopped hanging out with his nerdiest friend, Evil Ed (Christopher “Junior” Mintz-Plasse from Superbad).
In the update, written by Marti Noxon (a longtime Buffy producer) and directed by Craig Gillespie (Lars And The Real Girl), Charley isn’t much of a horror fan. That means he really does need to prevail on Ed’s expertise when he starts suspecting that his new neighbor, Jerry Dandridge, is a vampire, literally eating up some of the hotter and blonder ladies in the neighborhood. If you’re familiar with the first movie, you know that Charley needs more help than Ed can provide, so Charley eventually turns to a Vegas stage magician named Peter Vincent (David Tennant, apparently best known for playing Doctor Who). I’d never seen Tennant in anything before, but he makes the most out of a showy part. He’s definitely playing the Russell Brand role, and I’m not quite sure why the studio didn’t just get Russell Brand to do it, but then again David Tennant is far less obnoxious playing Russell Brand than Russell Brand is. This Peter Vincent is less sad than Roddy McDowall’s, and generally funnier. The best moments are when he interacts with his disinterested assistant/live-in girlfriend, who by the way is played by a girl named Sandra Vergara. That’s right guys and gals, Sofia has a little sister.
Most of the updates to the original story are pretty clever, I think. Las Vegas is a smart location for this particular story, not only because it makes Charley’s proximity to Peter Vincent make more sense, but also because the majority of the film is meant to take place in suburban Las Vegas, a setting which isn’t often seen on film. Gillespie and his cinematographer, Javier Aguirresrobe, get a lot of ominous mileage out of the dark and monotonous suburban expanses. The adult characters are the more interesting and memorable by far, although the teens are perfectly adequate. Yelchin is fine, and Poots is plenty likable, although I’m biased because I just love typing and saying the name “Poots”. Mintz-Plasse is far and away the most entertaining of the kids, and he really isn’t in the movie as much as you’d like him to be, but at least we can’t complain about the ‘damn remakes’ straying from the original story there.
Really though, Fright Night 2011 is Colin Farrell’s show. He’s funny and believably intimidating (to the kids at least.) In a culture where people are way too into “sexy” vampires, Farrell brings some badassitude back to the myth. It’s a good old-fashioned star turn, less Twilight or True Blood than Bela Lugosi. One of the best scenes in the new movie is a very simple one: Jerry is trying to persuade Charley to invite him into the house (since that particular aspect of vampire myth is a governing rule of this story.) Charley knows at this point not to do it, and Jerry knows he knows, so it has the aspect of the wild animal outside your door, even as the dialogue being spoken could just as easily be a routine conversation between neighbors. Colin Farrell plays it like a jungle cat toying with a rodent, quiet and menacing. This is the kind of role a guy like Ian McShane could have played in some alternate universe — I really do think that what Farrell gets to do in Fright Night merits comparison to such an illustrious expert at cinematic villainy.
Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t a great movie, just a frequently enjoyable one. It’s not ever as consistently fun as in its best moments. The best example of this disconnect is the climactic confrontation, which is inventive in several ways, but still turns Farrell’s Jerry Dandridge into a standard monster, sapping him entirely of his sardonic craftiness. Without Farrell, Fright Night just plain isn’t as fun. Whenever he’s onscreen (or in those moments where he’s just off of it, threatening to return), the movie is a kick. I’m no more used to rooting for the bad guy than I am for the popular kid or the guy who’s always on top, but in this case, it suits the movie like a fitted tuxedo. Or a Jerry Dandridge wifebeater. Or a Dracula cape. Choose your favorite wardrobe analogy.