Pale satire from Burton and Depp
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, May 11, 2012
At once a brash, strutting pop culture pastiche and gloomy exercise in self-cannibalizing nostalgia, "Dark Shadows" is depressing on myriad levels. Tim Burton's retread of the 1970s daytime goth-opera - starring Johnny Depp as original sexy-vamp Barnabas Collins - does exactly what the Depp-inspired comedy "21 Jump Street" so cleverly critiqued, lazily recycling old TV shows and hoping no one will notice. Unlike that energetic, genuinely funny comedy, Burton's mash-up of post-'60s kitsch and modern-day knowingness strikes a chord that is less self-aware than fatally self-satisfied. "Dark Shadows" doesn't know where it wants to dwell: in the eerie, subversive penumbra suggested by its title or in playful, go-for-broke camp.
With a look that takes its inspiration from equal parts "Edward Scissorhands" and F.W. Murnau's "Nosferatu," Depp once again affects the chalky pallor that has become something of a signature throughout his eight-movie collaboration with Burton. By "Dark Shadows' " final scene, the kabuki-white greasepaint has been troweled on so thickly he resembles less a human character than one of Burton's animated creations. Perhaps that's the best way to understand an alternately antic and deadly dull enterprise content to remain as steadfastly two-dimensional as the "Scooby-Doo" cartoon it briefly invokes.
For his part, Depp once again plumbs his vocal depths to come up with a sonorously memorable voice for Barnabas, beginning with a narrated preamble explaining how the Collins family settled in Maine, made a fortune in fishing, built a soaring manor of Collinwood and suffered tragedy at the hands of a witchy servant girl named Angelique (Eva Green).
After Barnabas rejects her love, she turns him into a vampire and banishes him to a grave for 200 years; when he's unearthed by a team of workmen, he proceeds to kill them all - a nasty bit of business that, along with several other murders Barnabas commits, "Dark Shadows" skates over with blithe insouciance.
When Barnabus returns to Collinwood, he meets some of his descendants: Elizabeth (the still sensational Michelle Pfeiffer), her pouty nymphet daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), a dissolute Collins heir named Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) and his sweetly sensitive young son, David (Gulliver McGrath). Also at large in the massive, down-at-heel pile: a psychiatrist named Dr. Hoffman, played by Burton's wife, Helena Bonham Carter, with blowsy, wide-beamed brio, and a wide-eyed governess named Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote).
The best part of "Dark Shadows" is Collinwood itself, rendered by Burton as a fascinating temporal collage in which a family lives in genteel poverty, sipping their coffee from Pier One cups amid 18th-century finery gathering dust.
But Burton winds up driving such piquant anachronisms into the ground with a constant barrage of jokes featuring Barnabas interfacing with 1970s culture, from a troll doll and a lava lamp to Karen Carpenter and Alice Cooper (who shows up in a truly nonsensical cameo). There's little by way of a story in "Dark Shadows," which instead works as a glib, if attractively atmospheric, collage of winks and references.
The ribald humor - and at least one supernaturally pugilistic sex scene - that runs through "Dark Shadows" will most likely go over the heads of the youngsters to whom the rest of the movie is presumably aimed. Whether they're frightened or bored by the fangs, ghosts and copious amounts of blood is a matter of taste and temperament. But surely no one, regardless of age, will buy the third-act twist that occurs in the middle of the mayhem that Angelique brings down on Collinwood.
"Dark Shadows" was written by Seth Grahame-Smith, whose novels "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" and "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" will soon be seen in big-screen version. If this is a hint of things to come, the joke is already in serious danger of being played out.
Contains comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, profanity and smoking.