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‘Interview With the Vampire’

Washington Post Staff Writer
November 11, 1994


Neil Jordan
Tom Cruise;
Brad Pitt;
Antonio Banderas;
Stephen Rea;
Christian Slater;
Kirsten Dunst
violence and nudity

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Hollywood heartthrobs flex their corpuscles for naught in "Interview With the Vampire," the disappointing adaptation of Anne Rice's succulent 1976 novel. Passionately anticipated and much ballyhooed, the film, alas, is little more than a foppish, fang de siecle costume drama. Its pulse barely registers.

Fans of Rice's sanguine bestseller will find the narrative mostly intact, and that is one of the movie's chief problems. The screenplay, which Rice carved from her own florid prose, contains far more story than a two-hour movie can hold. Like a plant strangled by its own roots, the picture is virtually plot-bound. And yet, those unfamiliar with the book may find that she's left out information crucial to understanding the characters' behavior.

Though set primarily in antebellum New Orleans, the film opens in modern San Francisco -- its streets, from director Neil Jordan's perspective, like blood vessels flowing with people. The camera plunges into the stream, in a short, fantastic voyage that ends in a shadowy room where a chain-smoking young reporter (Christian Slater) nervously begins his interview with the 200-year-old Louis.

Brad Pitt has the unenviable chore of playing the whiner Louis, a Creole planter who said goodbye to the sun in the late 1700s and has been brooding about it ever since. He was grieving over the death of his wife and daughter (his saintly brother in the book) when he attracted the vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise), a world-weary immortal who sees Louis not only as dinner but as a potential companion.

In the first of many flashbacks, Lestat offers the comely young planter a choice between a terminal hickey and immortal undeath. Louis picks Door No. 2 and we never hear the last of it.

For all the fuss about Cruise playing Lestat, it's the chubby-cheeked Pitt who is miscast. Cruise does not embody the monstrously evil Lestat of the book, nor does he turn him into a fangless, swashbuckling Top Gum. Instead, Cruise brings a wicked wit to the ghoulish role, but be warned that there's nothing romantic about his lust for blood -- though he has a nasty habit of playing with his food.

Louis cannot adapt to his mentor's sick games and initially resists human prey, attempting to survive on the blood of rats, chickens and a couple of unfortunate toy poodles. Taunted by Lestat for denying his desires, Louis lectures his companion on the nature of evil and other metaphysical topics applicable to undeadness. When not thus engaged, he mopes about their opulent town house resenting Lestat for turning him into a fiend.

Lestat decides to cheer up Louis by giving him a "daughter," Claudia (the extraordinary Kirsten Dunst), a cherubic child whose upbringing consumes her "daddies." Played for laughs, the film's second act might as well be "Two Men and an Undead Baby." But eventually Claudia comes to resent Lestat for condemning her to an eternity in a little girl's body.

All good things must come to an end, and the little family breaks apart in a climactic moment that leads to the burning of New Orleans, a showcase for the talents of the director, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot and production designer Dante Ferretti.

From this point, the story chronicles Louis's search for others of his kind in Europe, a quest that takes him and Claudia to Paris where they encounter a clan of catacomb-dwelling actor-vampires. But here, the story clots. Louis has long since given up on himself and his kind, and he rejects mentoring offered to him by long-haired Euro-vamp Armand (Antonio Banderas). Banderas is the movie's sexiest vampire -- if this veiny, waxen-skinned species can be considered sexy. Though they do not practice intercourse as such, they go for all types: A, B, AB or O.

Interview With the Vampire, at area theaters, is rated R for violence and nudity.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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