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‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 31, 1992


Fran Rubel Kuzui
Kristy Swanson;
Donald Sutherland;
Rutger Hauer;
Luke Perry;
Paul Reubens
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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The situation in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is almost enough to carry the movie. Southern California cheerleader Kristy Swanson learns she's the latest in a long line of girls chosen by fate to rid the world of vampires. For someone whose ambition is to "graduate high school, go to Europe, marry Christian Slater and die," that's a total bummer.

High school senior Swanson's life consists of working out gym-floor routines with her vacuous pals, idling with equally empty beau Randall Batinkoff (the vapid banker's son in Robert Altman's "The Player") and exchanging haughty taunts with lowlife rebel-student Luke Perry.

Does this sound just a leetle bit like "Heathers" to you?

Anyway, things take a turn for the mythic when bearded stranger Donald Sutherland informs Swanson of her destiny. As the Chosen One she'll have to drop the pom-poms and take up the wooden stake. There are vampires all over the place, and she has to train for the ultimate battle with aristocratic vamp Rutger Hauer.

"Does Elvis talk to you?" Swanson asks Sutherland.

"Buffy" is amusing for a time but its destiny is to die in a disappointing, long-winded conclusion. The second half feels stretched out and muddled, as if screenwriter Joss Whedon drove a stake through his script. However, in his depiction of the vapid SoCal world, Whedon knows the territory.

One bright shopping day, as Swanson and friends get into an elevator, Sutherland (still unknown to Swanson) hustles his way in. "Excuse much," says Swanson. "Rude or anything?"

The master-disciple relationship between Swanson and Sutherland becomes the movie's best element, an amusing clash of the old and the lite. When the reincarnated time traveler tells Swanson she must meet him at a graveyard to kill a nascent vampire, she complains, "I have cheerleading practice, OK?"

"Well," Sutherland retorts with the peeved air of a parent, "you're going to have to skip it."

There may be nothing funnier in the movie than Swanson sitting impatiently at the edge of a recent grave, with a cross in one hand and a wooden stake in the other. "Do you have any gum?" she asks Sutherland. When he says he doesn't, her petulant disgust is total.

When a vampire does emerge, Swanson has to rise to the occasion extremely fast. But the movie -- even with the campy participation of Paul ("No More Pee-wee") Reubens as Hauer's fangy sidekick -- never does. It lacks the insidious import of its "Heathers" model. Even in its knowing twitting of the teen-blase society, it's not satirically thorough about the task. Its comic creativity is patchy; that final match with Hauer is a distinct letdown.

As Swanson's love interest -- not to mention vampire-battling ally -- Perry plays effectively against his "Beverly Hills 90210" surfboard image. He has a nicely understated goofy quality. It's uncanny how passingly James Dean-like he can be. His mannerisms have the same pop-idol, tentative awkwardness, and a scene in which he walks across a clifftop at night eerily resembles the chicken-racing scene in Dean's "Rebel Without a Cause." He's screaming to play the Dean story, or a remake of "Rebel." But he and Swanson (who makes an excellent Buffy) need to find a movie they can really get their teeth into.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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