UNTIL NOW, the Blade movies (1998's "Blade" and 2002's "Blade II") were sort of trashy fun. They were rock-stomping, hyperkinetically edited music video-flicks in which the strutting, coolly sour (and blind) Blade (Wesley Snipes) wiped out legions of trash-talking, pretty-boy vampire scum. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it. One shot of Blade's mega-zap gun (loaded with special vamp-seeking silver bullets) and poof -- they went up in a Fourth of July flameout. Yeah! And then Blade (half-human and half-vamp) would move on, his expression inscrutable behind those slick shades.
But although writer-director David S. Goyer's "Blade: Trinity" has its share of vampire executions, fight action and new characters, the third time around feels like it ought to be the last. An overhead shot of Mr. Snipes that suggests -- dare we mention? -- a hint of thinning hair, symbolically brings this point home. Of course, there's nothing wrong with losing hair, or being an aging hero. In fact, it's a potentially terrific conceit: the hero fighting the inevitability of age.
In "Blade: Trinity," Wesley Snipes (center, with Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds) seems to be getting a little long in the tooth to be playing the vampire-hunting hero.
But in this case, Blade appears to have become host to his own dramatic demise. Forced to work with a group of vampire slayers, known as the "Nightstalkers," he's cagey and grumpy, as if furious that Goyer (who wrote all three "Blade" flicks and the second "Crow" movie) might replace him with younger talent.
In "Trinity," Blade finds himself framed. Fooled into thinking he's chasing a vampire, he deep-sixes his target, only to find the victim is human. Going on the run and hiding in the lair of mentor Whistler (Kris Kristofferson resembling Willie Nelson 30 years from now), he's ambushed by the FBI and arrested. But the Nightstalkers spring him from custody, and Blade finds himself allied (grumpily, as I mentioned) with a bunch of youthful whippersnappers, including quippy Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds) and leather-catgirlish Abigail Whistler (Jessica Biel), who happens to be Whistler's daughter.
Hold the phone. Blade couldn't tell the difference between vamp and human? Got busted by a bunch of earthly G-men? A smart aleck with hair gel and a power babe rescued him? Blade, you need to talk pension plan with your creator. You are soooo 1998.
Old Man Blade and his power kids take on a fairly goofy army, including a comeback Dracula (Dominic Purcell), who has reincarnated himself as a gothic stud named Drake; a vampy vamp called Danica Talos (Parker Posey); and a few other blood-sucking lugs (including pro wrestler Triple H). The usual superhero fighting ensues. Oddly, Drake, who seems to have enough power to eat Blade for satanic brunch, constantly avoids going in for the kill. When he has Blade in his grasp, he prefers to come back another time. What, he has attention deficit disorder? He's bored with winning early? Or a bad script made him do it?
Goyer's attempts at camp are flabby and misfired. Posey's indie-gal circus tricks are only fitfully amusing. And as Hannibal, Reynolds has an uber-potty mouth that could gray the heads of "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. (Foolishly, I took my 12-year-old son to this, thinking it might be a tad violent but generally okay. I think he turned 13 overnight.) "Trinity," whose title is an obvious, shoplifter's lunge at the "Matrix" mystique, is clearly geared for a fourth saga, judging by the open-ended conclusion and those hot young Nightstalkers. But if ever there was a case for quitting while you're behind, this "Blade" is it -- ready to be buried in a vat of garlic.
BLADE: TRINITY (R, 114 minutes) -- Contains graphic obscenity and violence. Area theaters.