Vampire Academy (2014) / Comedy-Horror
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, bloody images, sexual content, and language
Running Time: 104 min.
Cast: Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry, Danila Kozlovsky, Olga Kurylenko, Gabriel Byrne, Sarah Hyland, Joely Richardson, Cameron Monaghan, Dominic Sherwood, Sami Gayle, Claire Foy, Ashley Charles, Chris Mason, Ben Peel
Director: Mark Waters
Screenplay: Daniel Waters (based on the novel by Richelle Mead)
Review published February 10, 2014
Vampire Academy is the kind of movie I dread. It's the worst kind of bad movie -- a movie that is not good enough to enjoy and so consummately lame, it's not even enjoyable making fun of. Five minutes in you'll realize that staring at the movie screen is not much more engaging than it had been before the lights went out and images were projected upon it.
Not only is it dreadfully bland, but it's a few years too late to the party. The Twilight saga has already run its course for the tweenage crowd, as well as the Harry Potter series -- the two franchises that feel like they've been jammed together thematically on top of a black comedy clique flick in order to create this mash-up. Except it isn't anywhere in the league of those films, feeling very much like an extended pilot for a proposed TV series on the CW that has somehow been mistakenly released to movie theaters instead. It's egregiously unoriginal thinking, with yet another young adult series of novels mined and served in the hope of drawing and keeping the same crowd coming back to see something else now that their favorite series has finished its triumphant box office releases.
This one is a snarky and self-satisfied adaptation based on the first in a series of six novels by Richelle Mead, which follows several different kinds of vampires who all have their own brands of unique magic. There's the benign Moroi, the vicious Strigoi who hate them, and the Dhampirs, who are a mix of human and vampire who protect the Moroi. One of those Dhampirs is Rose Hathaway (Deutch, Beautiful Creatures), who is charged with the protection of a royal heiress Moroi named Lissa Dragomir (Fry, "Mako Mermaids"), to whom she is bonded with a telepathic link. The two young magical women find themselves heading back to St. Vladimir's Academy after unsuccessfully trying to make it on their own in the world of mortals in Oregon. Love, danger and hissyfits ensue.
It gets even more confusing than this, as there appears to be a great deal of backstory to the Academy and its inhabitants that are crammed with references to vampire mythology, family origins, and the various uses of magic that seem important to know but never explained in great detail. In the place of basic exposition are a plethora of cutesy scenes of characters either training for inevitable battles, flirting with the opposite sex, or making trouble for members of the same sex in typical high school comedy fashion. Mark Waters exasperatedly directs all of this dense dialogue with extreme urgency, as if it were a full season of a television show that must somehow be winnowed down into the restrictive confines of a 100-minute film. If you're not already well versed in the book series (as I often say, if you have to read a book to understand a movie, it's not a very good movie), it's a dizzying and disheartening experience to try to follow just on plot alone, never mind how little entertainment value it holds otherwise.
The one thing that might give a beleaguered film critic some hope for finding a silver lining on this very dark cloud is that it features the aforementioned direction of Mark Waters, who helmed some pretty good flicks for girls in the form of Mean Girls and Freaky Friday. It also is written by his brother, Daniel Waters, who penned one of the very best in the darkly comic high school movie genre with Heathers. If there is a duo that should be able to knock a film featuring girls forming friends and fighting for social dominance in a best-selling franchise kick-off out of the park, it is these two. But then again, with Mark being 49 years old and Daniel being 51, perhaps they are several decades removed from making the kind of pop culture-literate film that will appeal to the teenage girls the books are aimed squarely at.
The tagline on the poster reads, "They suck at school." That's two words too many.
©2014 Vince Leo