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‘Vampire Academy’ flunks fun and scares

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Vampire Academy

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Another mediocre horror movie has opened in the frigid, first months of 2014. “Vampire Academy”, which opened February 7, joins “Devil’s Due” and “I, Frankenstein” to create a wintry trifecta of misbegotten monster mayhem. “Vampire Academy” would like to be another “Mean Girls” or “Heathers”, albeit with blood, but it’s a bloodless exercise that is about as much fun as cramming for finals.

The producers of “Vampire Academy” clearly hired screenwriter Daniel Waters (“Heathers”) and his director brother Mark Waters (“Mean Girls”) with hopes of creating similar teen magic here. Yet as talented as those two siblings are, this effort doesn’t bring out their best, and it appears they may have been hamstrung by novelist Richelle Mead’s source material (http://bit.ly/NhD3qo).

The plots and ploys in Mead’s books borrow liberally from JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer, and that’s fine in prose where a writer’s voice can be still be singular. On the big screen however, one’s primarily left with the story machinations and it all plays as just too derivative. And it’s not helped by casting so many slight, pretty boy Pattinson wannabe’s to surround the two female leads Rose (Zoe Deutch) and Lissa (Lucy Fry).

Daniel Waters’ script doesn’t have nearly the sting that his “Heathers” had, and part of the problem is that everyone’s a vampire here, with super powers and levels of immortality. One thing his teens in “Heathers” could do is die, and die they did in the blackest teen comedy of the 80’s. Here, however, everyone is virtually untouchable, and they know it, and that robs the characters of empathy or sympathy. There’s nothing at stake if your only real enemy is a stake.

But jut like Meyer’s vamps, there’s little true angst or concern, even though they’re cursed. The can walk in the sunlight, drink blood from groupies offering their arms so no one’s a murderer, and do most any magic they want with little consequence. The only thing that worries them seems to be the power struggle at school. Playing up clique battles made for great comedic tension in “Mean Girls” but here everyone’s a sneering preppie in a blue blazer, so where’s the difference?

If this movie set out to savage the entitled one-percenter’s, it could’ve been one wicked black comedy. But Mead and her adaptors want us to feel sorry for these two troubled rich girls trying to fit in, negotiate love interests, and rock a plaid skirt five days a week. And that basic lack of audience relatability is where this picture careens off the tracks. There’s no one to like.

And most of the attempts at humor in this film are epic fails as well. In fact, dialogue and punchlines are rushed, almost like everyone knew the wit isn’t there, but at least they’re not belaboring things. And it’s choppily edited, with lots of clumsy scene transitions that suggest the editor knew this was a dog and was trying to be merciful to the captured audience.

There’s also some of the worst ADR (automated dialogue replacement) that I’ve experienced with a big major studio release in some time. Did Danila Kozlovsky have trouble with English? It seems so, as his entire performance as Russian hunk Dmitri seems to be badly dubbed.

Mark Waters has done his two female leads no favors, pushing their performances into caricature. They strain to make their tin-eared teen banter be funny, but it’s DOA. Both characters are dunderheads too, not nearly as savvy as Lindsay Lohan’s Cady or Winona Ryder’s Veronica.

With all those mistakes, it’s silly to assume it will be scary, and it’s not. But even the production design botches its attempt to create an atmosphere of dread. The sets and cinematography should be dark and sexy, like the art direction of author Mead’s website (http://bit.ly/1kmmFCh). Instead, most scenes are over lit like a cop show shot on the Universal lot in the 1970’s.

Mead has written six Vampire Academy books and I’m sure the producers were hoping for a long and prosperous film franchise. But just as the teen horror series “Beautiful Creatures” screwed up its first film adaptation last year (http://exm.nr/1kmljYq), so does this one. “Vampire Academy” may have trouble getting a sophomore year, or beyond. God, let’s hope so.

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