Does DARK SHADOWS honor the trippy original, or cast further doubt on the Depp-Burton alliance?
DARK SHADOWS is a strange film to pin down, and that's usually a good thing for director Tim Burton (Batman). Over 10 films, he and actor Johnny Depp (Public Enemies) defined the genre of wacky with brilliant brush strokes, painting lush environments with memorable characters who defied convention. And while DARK SHADOWS contains its fair share of all the above, the film really exemplifies the "Jack of All, Master of None" mentality, something very un-Burton like. It doesn't know what it wants to be half the time, straddling between action, bizarre camp comedy, and watered-down horror, but doing none of them very well.
Depp plays Barnabus Collins, an 18th Century vampire who is awakened in 1972 after being buried in an iron casket for enjoying the taste of human blood. Being a nightcrawler isn't really his fault: that blame is laid squarely on the shoulders of the haughty witch Angelique (Eva Green, Casino Royale), who was scorned by Barnabus for another woman. Collins returns to his mansion in Collinsport, only to learn that the family's fishing business is sputtering. Together with the remainder of his modern family, Collins seeks to return the business to profitability while battling the semi-immortal Green, who's taken over the small town. The movie, inspired by the serious tone of the 1966-1971 television show, is a definite parody, seeking to turn those overly-dramatic elements into comedy.
But the script by Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and John August (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) just isn't funny enough. In the film's first act, Barnabus gets a lift from a VW of hippies; later, he eats them. A sexual romp with Green in the second act destroys her office; she smokes afterwards. These and other moments are supposed to be funny, and while Depp's fish-out-of-water take initially brings the laughter, the shtick wears too quickly. Depp's portrayal also seems strangely familiar; his role is really a mash-up of The Mad Hatter, Jack Sparrow, and Ichabod Crane, all of which were better in their earlier forms.
While Burton excels at assembling a terrific cast, including Helena Bonham Carter (Harry Potter series), Jonny Lee Walker (Trainspotting), and Michelle Pfeiffer (Batman Returns), others are underutilized or just plain unnecessary. Chloe Grace Moretz (Hugo) tries way too hard as the rebellious 16-year-old, Walker's role is mere window dressing, and even Depp's love interest Victoria Winters (Bella Healthcote, In Time) disappears in act two, suddenly returning in the third to profess her love for Barnabus. Even the soundtrack by long-time music partner Danny Elfman (Spider-man) feels out of place, sacrificing the big sound of Batman and Hulk for something less effective.
DARK SHADOWS reminds us that not all fond remembrances of the past are worth revisiting; it's no better than a rainy-day rental. Fans of the show will giggle lightly at the many tips-of-the-hat which propagate the film; teens and college kids will wonder if they can sneak out to see The Avengers. It casts doubt on the Johnny Depp-Tim Burton marriage, making us wonder if the once brilliant fire of Sleep Hollow is just a dream in the mind of Barnabus Collins.
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