The reboot/remake/re-imagining of Fright Night is, unlike its 1985 predecessor, all bark (really loud bark, at that) and no bite. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an at least occasionally satisfying bloody treat in and of itself.
The plot of this re-do is pretty much the same as the original: A high school kid (Anton Yelchin) lives with his single mom (Toni Collette) and recruits the assistance of a somewhat washed-up showman (David Tennant) to help destroy his new vampire neighbor (Colin Farrell) that’s terrorizing him, his hot girlfriend (Imogen Poots) and his nerdy best friend (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).
And that’s pretty much where the similarities between Fright Night ’85 and Fright Night ’11 end. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
What’s destined to be an overlooked and underappreciated merit of the new Fright Night is that it neither pretends nor desires to have the specific character nuances or the nostalgic tone of its predecessor. It’s most definitely aware that many audience members loved, loved, loved the original, and it couldn’t care less. It’s like Jerry Dandridge (Farrell) himself sucked the original film down to its mere and basic skeleton, and from the bones came this new Fright Night. It’s its own show, if not in the premise than at least in the spirit.
And it’s sometimes a very impressive and enjoyable show, with Colin Farrell making for a rather strange and oddly fascinating vampire. Chris Sarandon’s original Jerry had a cool, elegant and — let’s face it — vaguely gay air about him; it’s a wonderful performance, probably the actor’s best, and there’s no trace of it in Farrell’s interpretation. Farrell, a very strong actor when actually directed to be (Phone Booth, The New World, In Bruges) gives us his most cartoonish character to date — and perhaps his most entertaining, next to his surprise and nearly unrecognizable turn in this year’s Horrible Bosses. Farrell’s Jerry smirks and growls his way through the bloody proceedings, giving off a creepy child molester vibe as he tends to his garden in a wife-beater, delivering his lines with a goofy, I’m-a-super-villain-vampire-badass pointedness. It’s one of the actor’s most self-conscious performances, and he’s had many of those, though for the first time he seems completely comfortable with it. Fright Night features Farrell actually enjoying being in front of the camera, and he’s a blast to watch.
The character that’s gone through the most drastic revision is not David Tennant’s Criss Angel-esque Peter Vincent but Anton Yelchin’s Charlie Brewster. The original Charlie was a nice kid; a lovable nerd with a cutie girlfriend and a charming love of horror movies. He was sweet and awkward and funny. Apparently, we can’t have a nerd for a hero in this kind of movie anymore, as this new Charlie is an ex-nerd who’s now managed to manipulate and charm his way into the “cool” crowd, scoring a hottie foreign exchange student for a gal pal (Poots) and consciously ignoring his former best pal, ‘Evil’ Ed Thompson (Mintz-Plasse). He’s a bit of a jackass — though maybe screenwriter Marti Noxon figured that if you turn the hero into a jerk in this particular story, then he kind of deserves to have a vampire move in next door. Anyway, it doesn’t work so much in gaining audience sympathy — you end up kind of wanting to see Yelchin get slapped, tossed and thrown around a bit, and Yelchin never seems particularly happy with playing such a self-centered character.
Some of the other performances are problematic as well, though that mostly comes from the actors struggling with the limitations of Noxon’s script, which is often more concerned with making flip remarks and jokey-jokes than developing the characters (Noxon is a former writer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so this should come as no surprise). Tennant tries hard but just doesn’t have the gravitas of Roddy McDowall (the original Peter Vincent) or the anarchic energy of Russell Brand, for whom the role was apparently written. Poots is cute but way out of her league here, often standing around with a vaguely worried look on her face, as if she’s anticipating the cue to react to any given special effect (you can even see an example of this in the trailer when Jerry slams through the back of the car). Toni Collette is wasted (somewhat literally — has she been seeming way stoned in everything she’s in lately, or is it just us?) as the clueless mom and Mintz-Plasse is… well, you don’t hire that kid to do anything other than what he’s done already in Superbad, and here he does it again, for better or worse.
And the film itself is… fine. It’s loud — a lot louder than its predecessor. Jerry blows up Charlie’s damn house, something that most certainly didn’t happen in the original. There are some good scares, a handful of laughs and the occasional nifty visual flourish from director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl). It zips by in a manner of in one ear and out the other. It definitely doesn’t leave anywhere near as strong an impression as the original, which just felt plain magical at times, but you’ll have some fun for the brief flash in which it lasts.
So yeah, go see it, for Farrell and some occasional good showmanship. Just don’t expect to remember much of it come dawn.