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A Kiddie Comedy You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 27, 2000


    'The Little Vampire' You had me at "I want to suck your blood": Jonathan Lipnicki from "Jerry Maguire" gets to know vampire Richard E. Grant.
(New Line Cinema)
Not 15 minutes into a recent Saturday morning screening of "The Little Vampire," an utterly charming – if edgy – new film based on German author Angela Sommer-Bodenburg's series of children's books about the friendship between a 9-year-old boy and a juvenile vampire, a high-pitched voice in the audience cried out, "Mommy, I'm scared!" Pretty understandable, frankly, coming as it did at the point when our pint-size hero has just discovered a pale-skinned bat-boy with fangs and glowing eyes hiding in his bedroom.

"Casper the Friendly Vampire" this is not.

Tony, a shy, friendless American child living in Scotland, has just met Rudolph, a 300-year-old blood-sucker who just happens to be a member of the pre-adolescent undead. After an awkward moment or two – Rudolph thinks Tony's going to drive a stake through his heart and Tony thinks Rudolph's going to eat him – the two become fast friends, but only after Tony convinces Rudolph that he doesn't want to kill him. (How can he? He's dead already.) Rudolph only has to convince Tony that he prefers cow's blood to human's – and a quick visit to a neighboring cattle barn proves this. "I think I'm gonna hurl," says Tony about his new playmate's hobby.

Two words of warning: "The Little Vampire" is not for the very young. The Harry Potterish plot, involving an attempt to retrieve a magical amulet that will break an ancient spell and turn Rudolph and his cursed vampire family back into human beings, is complicated, and there are numerous scenes involving gross rodents, a spooky vampire hunter (Jim Carter) and the prospect of a child being buried alive. Scarier still to some adults will be the presence of Jonathan Lipnicki, the "Jerry Maguire" kid, as Tony. The bespectacled, spiky-haired tot is one of those professional children who flirt with the boundary between cute and too cute, and to some cynics he has already crossed that line.

Adorable British newcomer Rollo Weeks as Rudolph, on the other hand, also has tweakable cheeks, but his unfamiliarity to American audiences keeps him from becoming too annoying too quickly.

For mature kids and their parents, "The Little Vampire" is very funny in a way reminiscent of "Babe: Pig in the City," the darkly entertaining sequel to the popular pig flick that was more of a hit with critics than with audiences. No surprise considering that "Vampire's" director, Uli Edel, is probably best known for the controversial (and definitely not for children) "Last Exit to Brooklyn" or that its writers have worked on such smart fare as the recent "Chicken Run" (Karey Kirkpatrick) and the 1988 "Beetlejuice" (Larry Wilson).

Kids being kids, of course, there will be one huge, fat laugh at the sight of flying, red-eyed vampire cows dive-bombing the bad guy with a load of fresh poop, while grown-up custodians can flatter themselves at getting references to such classic films as "To Have and Have Not": "If you ever need me, just whistle," says Rudolph's little vampire sister (Anna Popplewell) when she develops a wee crush on Tony. "You know how to whistle, don't you?"

(Thank God she didn't add "You just put your lips together and . . . blow." I wouldn't be able to live with the image of a prepubescent Lauren Bacall.)

The rest of the top-notch cast includes the wonderful Richard E. Grant ("Withnail and I") and Alice Krige ("Chariots of Fire") as Rudolph's comically morose father and mother, and the veteran British stage and film actor John Wood as pompous Lord Mcashton, a Scottish nobleman with a few skeletons in his own closet.

Halfway through the movie, while all around him were laughing in glee, my pipsqueak critic neighbor piped up again: "Mommy, I don't like this movie!" And later still, "Mommy, this movie's not funny!'"

"Yes it is," hissed mom sharply.

Sorry, kid, but I'm siding with the old lady.

"The Little Vampire" (PG, 95 minutes) – Contains cow poop, icky rodents, punching and implied blood-sucking.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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