A curse on AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, a comedy/horror film that managed the nearly impossible feat of being both genuinely funny and authentically scary, and made the balancing act look easy. More than a decade later, its bastard whelps
continue to shamble across the screen, undermining shocks with humor, spoiling laughter with horror. Case in point: VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN, a purported "comic tale of horror and seduction" that is neither funny nor frightening, just unpleasant.
Eddie Murphy stars as Eddie Murphy swanning around in Caribbean Prince of Darkness drag. His Maximillian-the-Monstrous, a vision in golden contact lenses and Fu Manchu fingernails, is in search of his unwitting soul mate, Rita (Angela Bassett). The daughter of a nutty anthropologist and a ghoul --
a self-confessed night creature whose day job is crime busting for the NYPD -- Rita wastes her time fretting about going mad like her mother when she should be worried about taking after her bad dad. Her partner -- whose name is Justice (Allan Payne), just in case anyone should fail to comprehend
that he's the good guy -- secretly loves her, but she's too busy having bloody visions and painting nightmarish pictures to notice.
VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN reworks the premise of Murphy's hit COMING TO AMERICA (1988), in which a suave African prince comes to the U.S. in search of a suitable mate. Here, a suave bloodsucker arrives in Brooklyn looking for a vampire bride, and the result is an unabashed showcase for Murphy, who gets
to wear funky clothes, do an exotic accent, crack wise, act cool and rip a man's beating heart from his chest. Murphy has some funny bits: He's entertainingly pompous when he masquerades as the venal Preacher Pauley ("Evil is good," he exhorts his puzzled congregation), and gets off a couple of
serviceable one-liners as an ineptly vicious stickup man called Guido. But these are only moments of sketch comedy wedged into a story that's draggy when it isn't disgusting.
The bulk of the ostensible funny business concerns Julius (Kadeem Hardison), the street hustler Maximillian recruits as his ghoul Friday. Promised eternal life in return for flunky duty, Julius begins shedding body parts at an alarming pace ("You got a case of the dropsies," sniggers his uncle),
though nothing so much as slows his mile-a-minute shucking and jiving. In fact, the film relies persistently on the vilest kind of racist stereotypes: street-smart hustlers, mumbo-jumboing witch doctors, castrating big mamas, and eye-rolling cowards who might as well just say "Feets don't fail me
now" and get it over with.
Since Murphy had his finger in virtually every stage of the film's evolution -- he's one of its producers, and receives a cowriter credit -- he must have seen the shameless cartooning as an ironic, "sophisticated" take on racist myth-making, but it doesn't play that way. (The film's Italian
stereotypes, it should be noted, are equally broad and disparaging.)
Poor Angela Bassett, a woman of considerable beauty and grace, is photographed harshly and dressed like a drag queen. She looks coarse and vulgar, which is in keeping with the film's overall tone but not at all nice to look at. Director Wes Craven, creator of the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series and
sometimes a filmmaker of biting wit, doesn't seem to have had a clue as to what to do with this material. Released for Halloween, VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN is more trick than treat.
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