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Blade, surprisingly, is a refreshing treat in a season of suck-ers.

By Zak Weisfeld

AUGUST 31, 1998:  I for one, am not at all surprised to learn that there is an ancient underground vampire temple just several blocks north of downtown Los Angeles. If there's one town on earth that seems particularly well suited (if it hasn't already happened) for vampiric domination, it is L.A., the City of Angels.

No mythological creature is a more apt metaphor for the secret desires of the agents, producers, and studio heads that run Hollywood than the eternally young bloodsuckers who treat humans as either prey or slaves, or both. The only real differences between them are that vampires are still required to work with the general public in a one-on-one context and they can't tan. Which is a pretty serious problem in L.A., despite what we know about skin cancer.

This single terrible fact—that vampires must be, at the very least, gaunt—has kept Jerry Bruckheimer, Mike Ovitz, and Steven Spielberg from spending every waking hour poring over ancient Romanian manuscripts and slaughtering wannabe starlets in ritual hot tubs by the hundreds. This also explains the mythic power of a movie like Blade.

In Blade, Wesley Snipes plays one bad mofo who is part vampire and part human—or, as the poster so poetically puts it, has the power of an immortal, the soul of a human, the heart of a hero, and the grimace of a black, undead Clint Eastwood. And it's a good thing for us non-immortals that Blade is around, because vampires are everywhere. I mean it. All those angular, sunken-eyed club kids from the Calvin Klein ads are actually vampires, which isn't really a huge shock. So are, as it turns out, a lot of the dandified, Euro-trash business men who control the world. Which is good to know, since it finally puts those Jewish conspiracy rumors to rest.

None of this would be so bad, status quo, as it were, except the vampires are tired of hanging around in underground nightclubs and stark, minimalist boardrooms. They want to be more like the agents and executives and get out in the sun. One of them has found a way to do it, but like most big ideas dreamt up in Hollywood, it's going to mean trouble for us, the little people. Enter Blade.

Much of the pleasure of Blade comes from watching Wesley Snipes, who should be a bigger action star than he is. Snipes, while perhaps not one of the great actors of our age, can at least be called an actor without using the word ironically. Likewise, his kung fu may not be quite as potent as Jackie Chan's, but Snipes looks like he could give the bloated and be-mumued Steven Segal a run for his money. On top of it all, Snipes as Blade is cool and knows it in a funny, self-effacing way. He's just the sort of tough, tormented hero with a heart of gold and a lot of leather that I want defending me from the velvet-jacketed lounge vampires bent on world domination.

Besides Snipes the cast is unremarkable, unless you consider Kris Kristofferson remarkable, which I don't. He's gruff and growly and a passable sidekick, but that's as far as it goes. Much the same (with the exception of the gruff and growly part) can be said for N'Bushe Wright who plays a vampire victim rescued by Blade who is also, conveniently, a hematologist.

As Deacon Frost, the unfortunately named Steven Dorff is one of the lighter-weight stars to assay the role of head vampire with dreams of a new master race. Dorff seems more like a petulant 90210 recurring character than the lord of the underworld, and his pretty-boy tough-talk and flirtations with sunblock leave little doubt as to who will be the last man, or immortal, standing when the credits roll.

All of this wonderfully low-key talent and ridiculous script-

writing is propelled by some of the best use of MTV style photography in recent memory. Jittery, jumpy, flashing, and strobing, cinematographer Theo Van de Sande (probably one of those Euro-trash vampires) keeps us, if not on the edge of our seat, then at least on the edge of our retina. Like the rest of the movie, it works.

Which is about the best that can be said for a summer movie based on a comic book—it establishes some relatively low expectations and then meets them, with some to spare. Blade is the kind of movie that critics with stronger moral fiber, and a better sense of the important societal role played by the critic, should decry. It is flamboyantly violent, operatically gory, and as shallow as a newscast on the Lewinsky scandal. But it is also good, clean, all-American fun and the kind of movie that is perfect to slip into on a too-hot weekend afternoon.


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