Pop Culture Gadabout
Monday, February 20, 2006
      ( 2/20/2006 05:31:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"BUT I LIKE SPREADING EVIL!" – Though its title gives the impression that it's somehow connected to John Carpenter's Vampires, it's hard to see where Vampires: The Turning relates to the world established in the James Woods-led original (or, for that matter, to the Jon Bon Jovi direct-to-video sequel, Vampires 2: Los Muertos). Set in Thailand, Turning recounts the adventures of a personality-free American kickboxer named Connor (Colin Egglesfield) whose girlfriend is kidnapped by a pack of motorcycle straddling vampires. Said dee-generate bloodsuckers, the Ja Dom, are engaged in a war with a band of good vampires (they only drink animal blood, which is conveniently left out for them by grateful human neighbors) called the Sang Neng. Of course, our bland hero has landed smack dab in the middle of this conflict.

Yup, it's another movie devoted to the underground war 'tween two groups of ultra-powerful supernatural beings. Currently airing on Starz, which seems to've made a specialty these days of showing low-budgeters that none of the other movie channels care to air, Vampires: The Turning isn't as excruciating as you first think it'll be. But it ain't particularly good either. The best things going for it are some alright CGI vampire dustings, a sprightly guest turn by Patrick Bachau as a duplicitous slayer plus a decent use of location. (The action's set around a festival that somehow is connected to an eclipse but mainly seems to consist of colorfully dressed Thailanders throwing buckets of water on each other. We also get some flashes of Thai nightlife, but they pale next to similar club scenes in Blade or From Dusk to Dawn.) The worst thing going for it is, well, pretty much everything else.

Foremost problem is director Marty Weiss' inappropriate love for colored lighting. Turning has two big fight sequences, and both of 'em are staged with deep, dark tints that obscure all the action: pretty fatal in a kickboxing film where fighting is the element that's supposed to keep you from caring that the movie's lead is stiffer than a box of frozen Popsicles. Watching the confusingly staged battles, I couldn't help recalling Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires - that movie was a mess, too, but at least they knew how to light a fight scene. Second is a thoroughly nonsensical back plot, which tells us that the sexy good-gal vampire Sang (Stephanie Chao) has to die during the eclipse so that all the vampires that she's turned will become mortal. Who cares if the vamps become mortal when all the traditional ways of dispatching 'em (sun, beheading, stake through the heart) still work fine? Am I missing a nuance here?

The central story – Connor's attempts at rescuing his whiney girlfriend Amanda (Meredity Monroe) from the clutches of the sadistic vampire leader Niran (Dom Hetrakul) – is perfunctorily resolved, though the scenes where sneery Niran torments the girl are intriguing enough to make you wish the film had a different director staging 'em. In this movie, it apparently isn't enough to have your blood taken by a vampire for you to turn into one: you need to submit to sexual congress with the creature, too. From what we can see the process can be pretty excruciating if you're resistant ("To turn," Sang sez, "you must embrace it without hesitation!"), and we get one scene where the unwilling Amanda cries out in agony after Niran's done a little bit of neck-sucking. Oh, for the days of the seductive vampire lothario . . .

So, in sum, if you're lookin' for a vampire actioner, stick with the John Carpenter original: it's dumb, but at least you get a believably hard-bitten James Woods chewing up the scenery, competently framed action – and a Catholic conspiracy plotline that's more believable than The Da Vinci Code. If you wanna see a lotta nice red and purple lighting, than The Turning is just the flick for you . . .
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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