- Last Updated: 2:00 PM, May 11, 2012
- Posted: 11:16 PM, May 10, 2012
A bite to remember. Running time: 112 minutes. Rated PG-13 (cartoonish horror and sexuality, violence, drugs). At the E-Walk, the Lincoln Square, others.
Not for the first time, Johnny Depp is all dressed up — this time as an elegant 19th-century vampire unleashed in 1972 — with nowhere particularly coherent to go in Tim Burton’s campy riff on the old TV soap opera “Dark Shadows.’’
Though nearly as confusing as their wildly popular take on “Alice in Wonderland,’’ Depp and Burton’s eighth collaboration is more fun, perhaps more to the point, and it looks far better. It’s not in headache-inducingly bad 3-D like its predecessor, so you can fully appreciate the magical special effects, gorgeous costumes and amazing set design — as well as such period artifacts as lava lamps, macramé and troll dolls.
These touches are more satisfying than a convoluted script by genre-bender Seth Grahame-Smith (the upcoming “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’’) that often falls short in its attempt to combine a fish-out-of-water comedy with a Gothic romantic thriller.
Depp, 48, a childhood fan of the soap opera, eagerly dons white greasepaint and a waistcoat to extravagantly play Barnabas Collins far less seriously than in the character’s 1969-1971 heyday (which included a pair of theatrical spinoff features).
The orphaned scion of a wealthy Maine family, Barnabas is cursed with fangs and eternal life after breaking off a fling with Angelique (a very sexy Eva Green), a house maid who unfortunately turns out to be a practicing witch.
Freed from his chained coffin 196 years later by workmen on whose blood he feasts in sanitized PG-13 fashion, Barnabas learns that while they may still occupy his crumbling old mansion, the Collins family has fallen on hard times.
Much of the film’s first hour is devoted to introducing characters who have little to do. There’s the officious matriarch, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has an alienated daughter (Chloë Moretz). Also on hand is Elizabeth’s brother (Jonny Lee Miller), who shows little interest in his disturbed young son (Gully McGrath), whose mother has died.
The son has a newly arrived nanny (Bella Heathcote) bearing an uncanny resemblance to Barnabas’ long-ago true love, whom the jealous Angelique sent toppling off a cliff.
Despite an elaborate introduction, this underexplained young woman (a reincarnation?) largely disappears from the action — she has no scenes with her young charge — until she’s needed for the climax.
When he’s not making a quick snack of pot-smoking hippies proclaiming Vietnam “the last war,’’ Barnabas is mostly ordering around the hypnotized caretaker of Collinwood Manor (Jackie Earle Haley) as part of his grand plan to restore the Collins’ fishing empire and their mansion to their former glories.
Barnabas is also undergoing dubious blood transfusions at the hands of the Collins’ self-medicating in-house psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter) in an attempt at a cure that he hopes will make him more appealing to the seldom-seen nanny.
None of this sits well with the still-alive and still-breathtakingly gorgeous Angelique, who has driven the Collins family to the brink of bankruptcy by building her own fishing empire — but still has the hots for her old employer, Barnabas.
“Dark Shadows’’ certainly has its moments, especially when Barnabas and Angelique hilariously wreck her office during a surreal, CGI-fueled, PG-rated tryst.
Burton lays on a buffet of pop music — everything from “Theme From a Summer Place’’ to ’70s icons Karen Carpenter and Barry White — to supplement the score by his longtime composer, Danny Elfman.
There are tons of movie references and cameo appearances by veteran bloodsuckers Christopher Lee and Jonathan Frid — the original TV Barnabas, who died on Friday the 13th last month — as well as Alice Cooper as himself.
“Ugliest woman I’ve ever seen!’’ proclaims Barnabas in a fairly good sample of the movie’s wit.
What stayed with me most was not the undernourished story line but the film’s cool visuals — the many sliding doors in Collin-wood Manor and wonderfully detailed docks in Collinsport and 19th-century Liverpool, all constructed on English soundstages and impeccably photographed by Bruno Delbonnel.
Maybe it’s because I share Burton’s twisted affection for the 1970s, but for all its shortcomings, I’d sooner watch a sequel to “Dark Shadows’’ than another installment of the bloated “Pirates of the Caribbean’’ saga any day.