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Blade: Trinity

It's been noted before, but the sure sign of a bad vampire movie comes when a character says, "those are vampires in the movies - this is real life!" Give Blade: Trinity some strange sort of credit for not even waiting to establish a plot before exposing itself as bad. Right there in the opening narration, Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds) delivers the cliché, not just about vampires in general, but specifically the film's uber-villain, Dracula. Not the Dracula you're used to, mind you, with the cape, the accent and the panache, but a slightly doughy tough guy that dresses like Earring Magic Ken and has pupils that look like labia. No, it's not pleasant.

To be fair, the Blade movies aren't vampire movies so much as action movies with vampires as the villains. A subtle difference, perhaps, but one that worked well enough for two films. With this installment, screenwriter David S. Goyer steps into the director's chair, and as a director, he's a heck of a writer.

The film opens on vampire commandos (you know they're bad guys because they flip the bird instead of giving thumbs up) breaking into a tomb in Iraq. A timely statement on evil, until you realize that yes, historically this was the cradle of civilization no matter what we want to believe. Dracula (Dominic Purcell) has gone to ground here, slipping into an uneasy rest out of a barely explained disgust for the path of civilization. Barely three minutes into the film, and Goyer the writer tries to inject some pretty complex characterization that Goyer the director keeps trying to cut out.

There's nothing in that opener that wasn't already seen in Exorcist: The Beginning, except that the cheap tomb set looks unbelievably cheap. Sure, vampires can throw rocks around like they were Styrofoam, but we shouldn't think they're Styrofoam.

Thankfully, Goyer cuts to safer ground by having Blade (Wesley Snipes) blow up a vampire enclave and get the real plot rolling. Except it's just another fake-out. The vampire elite set him up to kill a familiar, one of the human servants of the undead, in a very public setting. You'd think this would set up great tension as Blade is now considered a murderer by the general public.

For a few minutes, hopes are high. Talk shows devote whole episodes to him, and the FBI apparently assembles a task force dedicated to his capture. Do not question how they know his name is Blade, nor conversely why he should be upset that he was captured on video if the FBI has had him on their Most Wanted list as a serial killer for quite some time. None of these things will matter once Goyer gets to the meat of the story.

Except he can't decide what that meat is. Dracula, now calling himself Drake for no other reason than as a reference to the Marvel comic book, supposedly resents his vampire descendants. In one curiously unmoving chase scene, he laments to Blade that they have no honor. But still he takes orders from Danica Talos (Parker Posey), who at least plays supernatural bitch very well. The story also has to set up a new franchise, but barely makes a nod to it.

As the poster makes clear, the loner Blade has to team up with some young punk vampire hunters calling themselves the Nightstalkers. (Technically no more ridiculous a plot point than Blade calling himself Blade.) His original mentor, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), dies again, forcing this new alliance. Who exactly the Nightstalkers are never gets fully defined, since most exist to say a few lines and then get slaughtered, but our sympathies must lie with two, Abigail Whistler (Jessica Biel) and King.

King, at least, comes out of the original Marv Wolfman/Gene Colan comic book Tomb of Dracula that also spawned Blade. So it's a bit jarring when King repeats his warning about Dracula not being the Dracula of movies and comic books, and throws down a copy of the Marvel comic. It's an in-joke just poorly staged, as desperate as King's patter. Now, if Blade and King suddenly realized they were comic book characters, THAT would have been interesting.

As in the previous films, a lot of character bits exist just for their coolness potential. The younger Whistler, for instance, programs her iPod to provide a soundtrack for her slaying. Who needs to use their ears during a fight anyway? It's not like those sneaky vampires always scream as they run at you. Oh, wait, yes it is.

In the hands of somebody like Guillermo Del Toro, who did Blade 2, we would have been distracted enough to not let this kind of point be bothersome. Here, it just seems stupid.

The young Whistler also proves another surefire bad sequel touch - the heretofore unmentioned character that had to retroactively exist the whole time. Kristofferson's character was motivated to fight vampires because one had slaughtered his entire family. Poor Biel has to dismissively explain her own existence as "I was born out of wedlock." At least she gets to make up for it with perhaps the most gratuitous and frustratingly shot shower scene of the year.

Just because it still ticks me off, let me also mention a third really bad audience trust violation: a character performing an action in order to fool the audience, not any other character. This Dracula is a shape-changer ("not like a wolf or bat," says a wasted Patton Oswalt, "but other people, probably"), and uses that ability to abuse the viewers.

Even a twist ending betrays us, because while trying to give us a really arty cool-looking climax, Goyer accidentally shows us that the ending he uses can't work.

And still those maddening touches of a good writer show through. During the third act, Goyer puts Hannibal King through the wringer with the possibility of a great conflict. But instead of something that would require the capable Reynolds of adding depth, director Goyer settles for a knock-down drag-out fight with a strangely fey Triple H.

Thank heavens for Reynolds, by the way. His smart-ass remarks start out as pretty gratuitous, but by the end, his characterization works. What has stopped working is Snipes' withdrawn snarling as the vampire/human hybrid. He reduces his performance to a lot of posing, which wears out its welcome within the first ten minutes. (Rumor has it he was very unhappy during the filming, which of course has been denied by the studio. Guess what? It looks like the rumor is true.)

Supporting Snipes, however, is a cast he would have deserved ten years ago, back when he actually wanted to be in this series. Goyer has filled it with some great indie actors, not the least of which is Posey. Even performance artist Eric Bogosian shows up in what can only be the death-knell of his integrity. Wasted, all of them.

I wanted to like Goyer's shot at directing his script. (This is his second film, actually, and I have not seen his debut.) I still have hopes that Christopher Nolan will be able to connect all Goyer's cool ideas together for Batman Begins. But after Blade: Trinity, there's not even the energy to make a bad joke about staking it.

Just stick a fork in it. It's done.


Derek McCaw

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