Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Every so often, I watch a movie that reminds me of the decade in which I came of age: the 90s.  While not as sleazy as the 70s, and not as absolutely stupid as the 80s, American pop culture in the 90s was still fairly ridiculous.  I don't often watch movies that are defined by their decade, but I made an exception for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
"Ridiculous"how?  Two words: Butterfly Vagina

Before I continue, I have to admit that I am a fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show.  I'm not much of a TV fan, but I have been sucked into that teen melodrama and found it surprisingly entertaining.  I am not going to compare the two, though; I believe that serial storytelling is vastly different than filmmaking.  I just want to acknowledge ahead of time that I might have a soft spot in my heart for Joss Whedon, who created the TV show and wrote the screenplay to the film.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the story of (not surprisingly) Buffy (Kristy Swanson), your average, run-of-the-mill Valley Girl stereotype, circa-1992.  Basically, she cares about fashion, shopping, boys, and using "like" at least three times in every sentence.  Like, gag me with a cliche.  Buffy's life would be normal, if not for the intervention of Merrick (a slumming --- even by his low standards --- Donald Sutherland).
Sutherland, contemplating seppuku
Merrick finds and trains the Chosen One in each generation (he's old) to battle the vampire master, Lothos (Rutger Hauer).  The Chosen One is always a teenage girl, and she always loses to Lothos; this time, it's Buffy's turn.  On a side note, though, Merrick has a worse losing record than my beloved Chicago Cubs; if this were professional sports, he would have been fired at least a hundred years ago.  Anyway, in a bit of plot convenience, Lothos likes to treat his only viable opposition as sport, so he and his vampire minions set up shop in Buffy's hometown of Los Angeles.  Can Buffy defeat the dastardly vampire leader?  What effect will Merrick have on this Valley Girl?  What the hell is an Oscar winner doing in this movie?  All this, and more, can be answered by watching this movie. 

But who would want to do that?  Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not, by any imaginable definition, a good movie.  You can blame many people for that, but I think the first targets should be the actors.  Kristy Swanson is, quite simply, not much of an actress.  Unfortunately, her character goes through a pretty typical story arc, so her performance seems even more bland and predictable than usual.  Donald Sutherland is pretty decent as a creepy old man, but he does make me wonder exactly what his acting standards are; does he look for choice roles, decent money, or just someone who will offer to buy him Funyuns?  Rutger Hauer had swelled to his current size by this point, so he wasn't as physically intimidating as Blade Runner-era Rutger would have been.  Hauer is only a little subpar in this role, primarily because his character is stupid (he deliberately allows his enemy to get stronger) and his costumes and makeup were occasionally laughably bad. 
Smirkingly bad, at the very least

Surprisingly, the supporting cast is pretty solid.  Luke Perry played Buffy's love interest, and he managed to have some reasonable reactions --- when weird stuff starts happening, he tries to leave town --- as well as some of the better lines in the movie.  David Arquette has a small role, but the banter between him and Perry was one of the better aspects of the film.  Paul Reubens doesn't make for a very fearsome vampire, but his comic timing provides some of the movie's best jokes, particularly with his death scene.  You might also recognize Stephen Root and Hilary Swank in fairly boring character roles, as well as Ben Affleck, Ricki Lake, and Thomas Jane in bit parts.  None of them are particularly interesting to watch here, but it can be fun to spot them before they were famous.
Vampire or extra from Wayne's World?

This is the only feature film directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui and I think I know why.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a story that, probably, shouldn't work.  The premise alone guarantees a fairly cheesy movie experience.  Kuzui doesn't go much further with the idea than that; in fact, I believe that the Wisconsin-ish levels of cheesiness present in the movie are due to Kuzui making lazy choices and settling for stereotypes and easy jokes.
Thankfully, no stakes-for-dildos jokes

I suppose you can blame a lot of that on Joss Whedon's script, too.  This is an odd script, though; while there are a lot of lame jokes and gags, there are also a few genuinely funny and clever moments.  For every Valley Girl-ism, there's a line like, "He ruined my new jacket...!  Kill him a lot."  I hesitate to say that the filmmakers butchered his script, but...this screenplay draft is a lot cooler than what ended up on-screen.
For example, Luke Perry's friend didn't look or sound like an Arquette

That's not to say that the movie is awful...it's just not very good.  There are some clever lines and it managed to blend comedy and horror together --- unfortunately, it was neither scary or funny enough to truly work.  Still, it's kind of cute for what it is: a stupid comedy-horror hybrid.

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