Caffeinated Clint gnaws into Alicia Silverstone flick Vamps!

15 years ago, I was likely also anticipating an Alicia Silverstone reunion – only that one involved a tongue and a bedroom wall of sticky clippings of a teenage movie star in skimpy clothing.

And here we go again, reuniting with a beloved. Always a special thing.

Silverstone’s latest reunion isn’t so much with me – since I’ve well and truly moved on from the abode of my upbringing – as it is with director Amy Heckerling this time. And it too involves tongues – Okay, well, teeth anyway.

The star and director of the – film that fuelled my engines for everything Silverstone back in the mid to late nineties – comedy classic “Clueless” have gotten back together for a tardy sophomore effort that, though a far less polished and (unfortunately) pricey venture than their first union, is no less a delish experience for Silverstone devotees.

Seemingly convinced this was her way back into the big leagues (it doesn’t like it though, sorry chicken), Silverstone gives her all here – offering up an enthused Cher-like performance (No, not the one in the fish-net stockings that’s famous for her lung workouts, the teenage Beverly Hillsian that Silverstone made celluloid-famous in “Clueless”) as an adorable, dorkishly-hip vampire trying to find her way – in a world ruined by an excess of gadgets (yup, seems Ms Heckerling isn’t a fan of the social networks that have taken precedence over homework) – in modern-day New York City.

As we learn via her opening narration and some vintage-looking footage, Silverstone’s ‘Goody’ has been a vampire for centuries. She’s seen it all (wars, famines, and, of course, some great Fred Astaire movies) and done it all. But with her child-rearing days now behind her, and her long-lost love (Richard Lewis, who will pop up again later in the film) all but a cherished memory, she’s now got the time to just be herself and have fun – and in Manhattan, of all places.
Goody shares an apartment with fellow vampire and best friend Stacey (Krysten Ritter), who, like her slightly older (not that Goody has ever really told Stacey, who has only recently been turned, just how old she is) pal, cherishes her memories (Stacey’s are largely of the ’80s, which explains the pictures of folks like Michael J.Fox and Matt Dillon on her wall) but also remains feverishly optimistic and upbeat about her future and, for that matter, vampiric state.

By day, the girls sleep in their cosy little coffins – which sit smack-bang in the middle of the loungeroom of their modern loft. And by night, they sip and schmooze at the local club where, it seems, they spend most of their time helping unsuspecting young women stay clear of any blood-thirsty buddies (Justin Kirk plays one of the undead lotharios, rather amusingly).

Here and there, the girls also find themselves summoned by their maker – or ‘stem’ (very ‘chic’, Ms Heckerling!). Ciccerus (Sigourney Weaver), is a bit of a wildcat – unlike Goody and Stacey, she lives for the blood of others. She’s also significantly more take charge and, as we slowly learn, a bit of a pain in the neck – even to fellow vamps.

When Stacey falls in love with the son (Dan Stevens) of the legendary vampire hunter Van Helsing (Wallace Shawn), and begins to wish she were mortal so she could be on a more of an even playing field with her beau (and, of course, have a better chance of surviving the future father-in-law), she looks into killing Ciccercus, whose death would result in Stacey and Goody transforming back into their mortal, human selves.

The decapitation of Ciccerus is one thing, but her death would also mean Stacey and Goody – both struggling to keep up with ‘the kids today’ – could stop trying to pretend they’re so young and hip all the time.

Equipped with some deliciously chic dialogue, quite a few funny lines, some snazzy outfits, and a terrific co-star in Krysten Ritter (“The B*tch in Apartment 23”) – playing a newbie vampire and Silverstone’s “bestie”, Silverstone goes off like a refurbished kettle in her latest part. In fact, she’s such a delight to watch here, one wonders whether she set her technique to auto-cue post “Clueless”?

So, the film itself though?

Well, it sucks.

Sorry, bad play on words.

No, it’s not bad. It’s not great, and it definitely doesn’t encompass the rewatchability factor of “Clueless”, but there’s a good movie trying to gnaw its way out of the restrictive production values.

You see, despite how great Silverstone and Ritter are (even fellow “Clueless” alum Wallace Shawn) and despite the fresh, topical and funny script, the lack of production dollars seems to have really hurt the film.

One can live with a couple of grainy shots and some cheap camera tricks, but there’s stuff in here that honestly looks as cheap and tacky as Lloyd Kaufman’s Year 12 High school project.
From the really horrible special effects (as scene where Ritter’s character walks vampire-like down-a-wall looks embarrassingly amateur from a sfx point-of-view, and a scene in which one of the film’s villains is beheaded looks absolutely shocking – as if the result of a free movie-magic program found through an open source search) to the editing, which hasn’t had much thought or creative energy put into it (or maybe I’ve just been spoilt by the terrifically spliced-together Heckerling films of years past?), the lack of money has robbed Silverstone of what could’ve otherwise been a minor comeback project.

Heckerling’s script, which is refreshing, thoughtful, cleverful and actually has something to say (about everything from modern technology to the importance of friendship), is actually really good. I can only imagine how good the film would’ve been if a major studio had gotten behind it (Paramount, for instance, who bankrolled “Clueless”) and let her loose with a bigger budget. The film’s finale, which at present plays hokey and stings the eyes with its vanilla effects, could’ve been something truly spectacular.

So I guess that’s the answer to the “Why is it going direct to DVD?” question.

Having said that, the film might still have gone to DVD if it’s production values had been a bit more on par with that of “Clueless” or even, Heckerling’s early effort “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”. DVD isn’t the dreaded graveyard films go to die, not in the way a video library was in the ’80s. Doesn’t matter how good something may be these days, it comes down to just how super expensive it is to market a film theatrically and whether or not it’s guaranteed of being a number 1 hit on that first weekend out. If it’s not, or if someone’s a little nervous a film isn’t going to sell out sessions on opening day, then they’ll leave it.
But also, I guess one has to point out that Silverstone, now in her thirties, isn’t the big drawcard she was back in the VHS era. She’s steadily employed (She’s also in another new film, which I’ll take a look at in a couple of days, called “Butter”), but hasn’t headlined anything big in close to a decade – maybe since “Batman & Robin”.
So, with those two things in mind, that might explain why “Vamps” isn’t going to multiplexes.

I might also be worth mentioning that “Vamps” skews a bit older than “Clueless”. This one, as I see it, is for the thirty something – who, unlike anyone much younger, will be able to relate to a time when people actually got together to communicate rather than just jumping on Facebook to converse (even if they’re in the next room). Heckerling piles the film with so much acidic spit towards technology, and in particular the social networks, cell phones and modern-day movies, that it’s clear she’s using the vehicle as much as a means to entertain as she is to speak-out about how ridiculously sad things have gotten. And yeah, she definitely has a point. At times, however, she lays it on a bit too thick and, for that matter, the element plays a bit like a frantic afterthought.

Despite its flaws and drawbacks, there’s still some good to gnaw on here.
The tone is so bouncy and hip that one can’t help but be drawn into the cheesy, ridiculously daft yarn; Silverstone and Ritter make for a fun twosome; and for anyone that’s peepers have been poisoned by the rush of sternly-serious vampire flicks and TV shows of late, “Vamps” offers up a fairly refreshing and original antidote.

Oh, and yes, in case you were wondering, Alicia’s still got it. Very much so.

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