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'Interview With the Vampire'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 14, 1994

 


Director:
Neil Jordan
Cast:
Tom Cruise;
Brad Pitt;
Antonio Banderas;
Stephen Rea;
Christian Slater;
Kirsten Dunst
R
Under 17 restricted


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"Interview With the Vampire" starts out well, its fangs beautifully bared and ready for entertainment. It always looks good, thanks to Neil Jordan's fluid direction, Stan Winston's makeup and special effects, and cinematographer Philippe Rousselot's gorgeous compositions in blue and—of course—red.

Unfortunately, the story, adapted by Anne Rice from her best-selling novel, sucks at the neck a little too long. A 23-minute snipping from this 123-minute movie would have done wonders. And there's at least one other problem. Fans of the book may be divided on Rice's screenplay, which dispenses with many minor characters, introduces "The Addams Family"-style one-liners and significantly alters the ending. But they're bound to be uniformly upset about the casting of Tom Cruise. In the crucial role of the vampire Lestat, his performance pulsates with that hyper-motivated pep many find appealing, but he just ain't The One. Picture "Blade Runner" replicant Rutger Hauer, picture Nazi commandant Ralph Fiennes, picture really big guy John Goodman before you picture Cruise.

As the movie opens, Christian Slater, the interviewer of the title, is waiting for stranger Brad Pitt—the Vampire—to recount his life story. For the first time since they've met on this dark night, Slater sees Pitt's face in the light. His protruding veins, scary blue eyes and pale skin prove he's the real thing. Pitt then tells a long saga, which starts in 1791 in Louisiana and which involves dealings with his archenemy Cruise—the one who initiated him into the undead family; a young vampire-girl (Kirsten Dunst), whom Pitt brought into vampirehood; and Euro-vamps Stephen Rea and Antonio Banderas, who introduced Pitt to a bigger world of the damned.

"Interview" saves its better stuff for first, particularly as Pitt—after Cruise turns him into a night creature—undergoes on-the-job training. At first squeamish about killing people for blood, he settles for rats and other animals. At one point, faced with killing an aging matriarch, he goes for her white poodles instead. She screams bloody murder. Director Jordan, who made "The Crying Game," misses no opportunity to interlace eroticism and horror. When he's on the prowl, Cruise likes to seduce young women before exacting his dark red sustenance. With alarming swiftness, the victims switch from sexual excitement to outright horror, as Cruise's murderous purpose becomes clear.

The humor, more subtly embedded in the book, has been brought to the surface as if this were a weekly sitcom called "Pardon Me but Your Teeth Are in My Neck." When Dunst becomes a vampire, she becomes precociously murderous, killing willy-nilly like a child with too much power. Cruise and Pitt follow her around like perpetually carping parents. At one point, she kills her piano teacher right in front of the piano.

"Claudia," says Cruise. "What have we told you?"

"Never in the house," says Dunst.

Scenes like this will undoubtedly play well with audiences, but they also mark the beginning of the creative end. Does this comic material flow organically from the novel or is it being milked for cuteness? It is from this point—approximately the middle of the picture—that the movie's energy starts to drain like blood from a vampire's victim. You'll feel that ebb, sooner or later, as you begin to glance regularly at your watch.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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