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Tucson Weekly Stylishly Undead

'Blade' Is All Surface, And Cool As A Good-Looking Corpse.

By Stacey Richter

AUGUST 31, 1998:  I CAN'T REMEMBER if I've confessed before in this space that I love the undead, so let me just mention it now. Staying up all night sucking human blood, wearing gorgeous clothes, forgoing aging, enjoying superhuman strength and having lots of money (they always do)--this is exactly the kind of end-of-millennium decadence I've been thirsting for. So naturally I loved Blade, the bloody vampire movie based on the eponymous comic-book character (one of the first African American super heroes, by the way). I hesitate, though, to vouch for the quality of this flick. A friend asked me if I'd seen any good movies lately, and I said: Yes! Blade! And he replied that wasn't really what he meant by a "good movie."

But as shameless schlock goes, Blade is a fine example. There's no character development or pesky levels of meaning to get in the way of the action, adventure, and special effects. There are absolutely no pretensions to high art whatsoever--including the depth of character that has crept into some comic-books for grown-ups in the last decade. Blade (played by Wesley Snipes) is a simple vessel motivated by simple desires. He hates vampires--"suckheads" he calls them--and has embarked on a holy crusade of extermination. Blade himself is a Daywalker, a strange admixture of human and überhuman produced when his pregnant mother was bitten by a vampire just before his birth. Since then, Blade's powers have been a little bit country, and a little bit rock and roll: He can withstand sunlight and garlic, but he has the superhuman strength endemic to the undead. Plus he needs to drink human blood.

As is the case in many vampire stories, Blade hates the part of himself that's vampiric. He shoots up a special serum cooked up by his buddy Whistler (Rhodes scholar Kris Kristofferson) concocted of garlic and biohazard material that helps quench his thirst for the fresh stuff. Together the two have pledged themselves to killing and killing the undead, who live in swelling ranks among us apparently, feasting on humans after the sun has set as though we were fattened cattle. Whistler makes weapons out of silver, garlic, and titanium for Blade. Blade, dressed in wrap-around shades and enough leather fetish gear to cripple a lesser man, goes out nightly to kick some undead butt.

Blade is essentially a series of fights, and they are for the most part loud, well-choreographed, and laced with special effects. The one that opens the movie is a sort of Jackie Chan meets Xena Warrior Princess brawl, with our lone hero taking on a whole roomful of lowlife suckheads without breaking a sweat. Good for you, Blade! The vampires themselves resemble a bunch of rave kids up way past their bedtime, led by a deadpan Traci Lords and evil genius Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff). At midnight, blood shoots out of the overhead sprinkler system (a sign above the D.J booth says BLOODBATH!) while the undead just keep on dancin' to the techno beat. Better yet, after Blade kills them they turn into computer-animated skeletons. What a cool species!

This is only the tip of the special-effect iceberg, however. Director Stephen Norrington does for blood in Blade what Disney did for green goo in Flubber. It flows, it congeals, it has a mind of its own. It's all over the place. Early on, Blade hooks up with Karen (N'Bushe Wright), a beautiful hematologist, who discovers that a certain clotting agent causes vampire blood to explode. This sure comes in handy later on.

Karen also discovers that vampirism is a retro-virus (a sexually transmitted one, she says) and mixes up a little cure for it in a couple of hours. It's hard to forgive her for not turning her considerable skills to AIDS research. Blade missed the opportunity to reflect on the cultural undertones of blood and infection. In fact, it doesn't reflect on any of the themes that spring up naturally in the story--of Blade being part of a group that he also hates, or even just feeling freakish and different--as most interesting monster and horror movies do.

Instead, Blade is pure surface gloss. Snipes doesn't exactly waste his considerable talents on the unsmiling, monotone Blade, but he sure doesn't strain himself. This isn't really acting, after all--it takes place behind heavy leather and dark glasses. The camera work is edgy and music-video inspired, occasionally treating us to the speeded-up, drop-frame style that has become a convention for a vampires' heightened point-of-view (also for werewolves). But I actually found myself admiring the filmmakers for sticking to the surface. They remain true to a comic-book vision to the end, and sometimes a simple line between good and evil is all you want out of a movie. That and a little style. It's what the undead are about, after all.

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