Length: 92 minutes
Release Date: November 2, 2012
Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Stars: 2 out of 5
Director Amy Heckerling is no stranger to the hormonal ups and downs of romance. In 1982, she directed “Fast Time at Ridgemont High,” a comedy that explores the challenges of the high school dating scene. In 1995, Heckerling wrote and directed “Clueless.” Inspired by a Jane Austen novel, “Clueless” follows a precocious teenager as she tries to figure out life, love, and everything else. With “Vamps,” Heckerling finally graduates from high school and focuses on characters that are well past puberty. However, instead of focusing on college or even tackling middle age, Heckerling takes a giant leap ahead. The protagonist of her latest romantic comedy is nearly 200 years old.
Taking advantage of the seemingly undying vampire trend, Heckerling blends elements of horror with her signature rom-com style. Alicia Silverstone stars as Goody, a sunny socialite with a dark secret. Since 1841, Goody has been hiding her undead condition in the liveliest city on the planet. Like any single girl in New York City, Goody has a best friend. Stacy (Krsyten Ritter) has not been a vampire for nearly as long as Goody. This means that she helps Goody keep up with the rapidly changing trends, much like a niece teaching her cool aunt the latest slang. Goody is a little self-conscious about her advanced age, preferring to coyly avoid the topic.
Like many pop culture vamps, Stacy and Goody refuse to feed off humans. Instead, they satiate their hemoglobin cravings by turning rats into makeshift mojitos. It turns out that New York City is a pretty useful place for a vampire who wants to be inconspicuous. Thanks to their roles as flighty socialites, nobody notices when Stacy and Goody turn down meals or sleep all day. In spite of their exciting lives, the friends dream of finding the perfect partners. Unfortunately, the timeworn difficulties of finding a good man in New York become even more complicated when the girls are trying to hide their fangs.
Eventually, romance does blossom, but not without a price. Stacy falls for a man who hails from the Van Helsing clan, stirring up all kinds of trouble for the New York vampire community. Meanwhile, Goody reunites with a man she dated in the 1960s. She had to give up on the relationship because of her secret, and meeting up with her old spark reopens some unexpected wounds. Complications abound, both in the women’s personal lives and in the larger battle between humans and bloodsuckers.
Alicia Silverstone and Krysten Ritter are likeable as the sweet and sunny vampires, though the fluffy roles will probably not define them as actresses. Silverstone’s character may be pushing 200, but she’s still perky and bright-eyed enough to pass as a recent high school grad. Hollywood veterans such as Sigourney Weaver and Malcolm McDowell bring a little extra spiritedness to the cast.
In keeping with the cutesy double entendre of the movie’s title, the overall sense of humor is corny and lightweight. Predictable puns and sassy one-liners abound. Heckerling plays around with vampire stereotypes and comes up with many mildly humorous moments. However, the whole movie has the fluffy feel of a TV show episode, not the weight of a cinematic blockbuster. Its constant pop culture references are entertaining, but also give the film a very short shelf life.
“Vamps” also struggles to strike the perfect chord with its audiences. Many aspects of the movie feel like a teen flick, but its similarities to “Sex and the City” seem more suitable for the thirty-something crowd. The film is very light on any real horror, but its supernatural themes set it apart from typical romantic comedies. Amidst all the genre confusion, Heckerling often seems to fall back on her standard teen comedy vibe.
The overall theme of the movie is the poignant monotony of immortal life. Fittingly, perhaps, this also is the movie’s major flaw. Just as Goody feels uninspired by immortal life and finds it hard to adjust to a world that has left her behind, audiences are probably starting to feel the same way about vampire stories in general. At this point, it almost feels as if filmmakers have explored the vampire condition more thoroughly than the human condition. Maybe one day a vampire film will come along that is revolutionary enough to make the whole genre fresh and exciting again, but Heckerling’s “Vamps” is not that film.
Ultimately, however, “Vamps” delivers exactly what it promises on the package. It combines two popular genres, showing the world what Carrie Bradshaw might look like if she fell in love with Edward Cullen instead of Mr. Big. The movie is funny, lighthearted, and sometimes very clever. Near the end, Heckerling pulls out a surprisingly emotional and poignant twist that redeems the entire film. The jokes about tooth whitening strips for fangs or “coffin hair” may fall flat, but “Vamps” is also willing to take emotional sacrifices that give the movie a much-needed bite.