Vampire Academy

By on February 8, 2014

When I first heard about the film “Vampire Academy,” I was a bit dubious because do we really need another vampire-themed film? (Or show, for that matter.) Much less one based on a popular, ongoing young adult series? Then I heard it was written by the man behind one of my all-time favorite teen movies, “Heathers,” Daniel Waters, and directed by the man behind another of my all-time favorite teen movies, “Mean Girls,” Mark Waters (yep, it’s his brother), and I allowed myself to become at least a little excited.

I mean, come on: two members of a family behind two of the most memorable teen movies ever made joining forces for the first time? How can they lose? So, I crossed myself going into the theater and hoped for the best that the end result didn’t- ahem- suck. Would it be “Heathers”/”Mean Girls” with vampires? Or would it be like “Twilight” with a little more bite?

As it turned out, it was kind of neither.

Given the way they’ve been relentlessly promoting this thing, I expected one or the other but it’s actually more like “Harry Potter” with an edgier sense of humor. Go figure.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments. For one thing, there’s a promising cast of up-and-comers in the film, including actress Zoey Deutch. She’s Hollywood royalty of sorts, as the daughter of Lea Thompson, of “Back to the Future” fame, and director Howard Deutch, he of the John Hughes-scribed “Pretty in Pink” and “Some Kind of Wonderful,” themselves all classics of the teen comedy genre. Deutch was also in the witch-themed “Beautiful Creatures” and this isn’t too far removed from that, and she played Sarah Michelle Gellar’s stepdaughter in the short-lived “Ringer.”

That last connection is an apt one, as Deutch plays a “Buffy”-type protector, Rose, not a vampire, as you might have thought from the previews. She’s the closest guardian to the princess, Lissa (Lucy Fry, of the “H2O”-spin-off, “Mako Mermaids”), and the two have this mind-meld thing happening where Rose occasionally channels her at inopportune times. Sometimes it’s helpful, such as when the princess is in danger; other times, it’s a hindrance and a nuisance, such as when the other is flirting with a boy. It’s a one-way communication, so all Rose can do is helplessly observe, making comments Lissa can’t hear, without Lissa even knowing she’s there.

That’s a clever notion, as is the “how did no one think of that before” notion of school being held at night while sleeping hours are, of course, during the day. Because it’s a vampire school, get it? The “protectors” are humans trained to defend their assigned vampires to the death, using whatever means necessary, so they get trained while vampires take magic classes and the like. So, sort of like “The Hunger Games” training facility-meets-“Hogwarts.” As with the latter, there are lots of family histories and different strains of creatures and so on.

Actually, though I suspect that the film is trying to rely a bit too much on the books (which I haven’t read, FYI), it kind of spoils the fun a little, much as the first film in the “Harry Potter” series was almost slavishly faithful to the source material- perhaps too faithful. Because there’s so much to explain, the film spends a lot of time catching up those who aren’t familiar with the books, and not enough, you know, being an entertaining movie. I did enjoy and appreciate the elaborate back-story, and I’ve no doubt the books read like a charm, but what reads well doesn’t always translate well to the big screen.

I almost want to give them a pass on this one because there was so much to get into plot-wise and I didn’t dislike the film. I think the germs of a solid franchise are in there, and with all the background info out of the way, if they did another one, there would be less of that to deal with, and more time for teen-movie style comedic high-jinks, which is what I think a lot of people who go to this are going to expect if they’re familiar with the writing and directing talent’s resume.

What is there is fun and there’s some nice characterization going on with the main leads, plus the resident nerd (“Modern Family” star Sarah Hyland, going from chic to geek- or Haley to Alex, if you prefer) and mean girl (Sami Gayle, of “Blue Bloods”) are both well-done. There’s definitely some quotable dialogue here and there (my favorite, off the top of my head, was: “Let’s make tonight our bitch!”), and the adult leads are solid, including Gabriel Byrne (“The Usual Suspects”), who already looks like a vampire, so that’s not much of a stretch; Bond girl Olga Kurylenko as the appropriately frosty headmistress; and Joely Richardson (“Nip/Tuck”) as Queen Tatiana, who’s a bit on the frigid side her own self.

I like Deutch a lot in everything I’ve seen her in, especially the underrated “Beautiful Creatures,” another film based on a book series. That one didn’t fly, but this one deserves at least a second chance. Deutch is a nice combination of “Juno”-era Ellen Page and a younger Rose Byrne (“Insidious”), with the verve of “Buffy” at her snarkiest, and most kick-ass. She (or her stunt double) does lots of cool fight scenes, and Deutch excels at projecting personality, be it wryly bitchy or sweetly-flustered by her hunky trainer- or pretending to be. She and said trainer have a cute Kato-style thing they do when she tries to spring out of nowhere at him and catch him off-guard at unexpected times- for my younger readers, think J-Law in “Silver Linings Playbook.”

There’s enough to recommend here, but only just barely, which is disappointing. I don’t blame the talent involved behind or in front of the camera, there’s just too much plot and not enough funny. Sure, there’s some reasonably entertaining action, but it’s nothing you couldn’t stay at home and see on, say, “The Originals.” In fact, that’s what this sort of plays as: a ready-for-CW supernatural-themed show with a good-looking cast and a tongue-in-cheek approach to the material. (This explains why they promoted it so heavily on that channel.)

But why go to the theaters when you can stay home and see that for free-ish? I went to the matinee, so I wasn’t hating myself after, but you might want to go with either that or waiting for the rental/streaming. I don’t know that I would have been as forgiving if I had paid full price. Still, the fact that I would totally watch another one is a plus, I suppose. Let’s just concentrate on the characters more and the plot less next time, shall we? If there is a next time, which remains to be seen.

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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