Dark Shadows

            The pedigree is superb.  Tim Burton, the master director renowned for creating delicious worlds of cinematic fantasy, and Johnny Depp, famous for adding empathy and entertainment value to quirky characters of dubious morality, are teamed together to recreate the campy vampy TV soap opera “Dark Shadows” from the 1970’s.  Add the blood of some other world-class actors such as Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter, and this movie should have been an over-the-top comedic sensation.  The fact that they’ve all worked together successfully in the past and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses should only add to the guffaws.  Throw in the genes of other actors with wonderfully expressive eyes and a penchant for comedic melodrama, such as Eva Green and Christopher Lee, and audiences should be rolling in the aisles.            Alas, the prestigious bloodlines, like an also-ran racehorse in a big money derby, never compete for the prize money, making “Dark Shadows” one of the worst films in a bleak year of below average movies.  Perhaps director Tim Burton (“Alice in Wonderland”) has simply lost his touch.  Perhaps Johnny Depp (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) is in a slump.  Most likely, all of the notables climbed on board the bandwagon based on the concept and association before actually reading the script.  That screenplay, written by Seth Grahame-Smith (one of Tim Burton’s frequent associates, having written “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Corpse Bride,” and “Big Fish”), conceived by John August (author of the novel “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”), and based on Dan Curtis’ TV series, is absolutely abysmal.             The storyline is stereotypical gothic melodrama.  In 1760’s Maine, Angelique, a servant-girl/witch places a curse on manorial master Barnabas Collins for not returning her passionate love.  He becomes a vampire, and is buried alive.  Accidentally unearthed 200 years later, he discovers that his family’s legacy has shrunken to poverty and the witch Angelique is still alive and tormenting his family.  What’s an honorable Undead to do?  Unfortunately, the dialogue and direction do not live up to the potential of the idea.  The jokes in the movie are stale, and in this, the post-“Interview with a Vampire” and “Twilight” era, the seductive element of the 1972 soap opera is at best quaint.   Even the hopeful hilarity of 18th century Barnabas adapting to the 1970’s is badly done;  we see him asleep hanging upside down while the maid makes his bed below him, unaware of his presence—the image replays several more times in a senseless montage that includes Barnabas discovering television and brushing his fangs in a mirror.  As envisioned by the artists, these scenes were almost certainly perceived as knee-slappingly funny, but end up merely inducing mild twitters.             Johnny Depp’s Barnabas, ostensibly the star of the show, exhibits no star qualities here; he is bland and ordinary, a stake through the heart of gothic melodrama.  Eva Green (“Kingdom of Heaven”), whose brooding eyes typically sparkle with playful malice, portrays his nemesis Angelique with a shadow of the flamboyance necessary for the part.  Michelle Pfeiffer (“New Year’s Eve”) sleepwalks through her role as Elizabeth, the 20th century matriarch of the Collins clan.  Helena Bonham Carter (“The King’s Speech”) adds a wonderfully nuanced role to her portfolio, as the aging, ambitious, alcoholic Dr. Julia Hoffman; unfortunately, this is the wrong movie for such subtlety.  Jackie Earle’s (“A Nightmare on Elm Street”) wonderfully craggy face is wasted on the insipid handyman Willie.  Johnny Lee Miller (“Aeon Flux”) should be a conniving rake as Roger, but is merely greedy and stupid.  Bella Heathcote (“In Time”) plays pathological governess Victoria, as frigid and uninteresting.  Chloe Grace Moretz (“Let Me In”) as Carolyn, and Gulliver McGrath (“Hugo”) as David are completely forgettable.  Alice Cooper as himself and Christopher Leeee as a hypnotized sea captain complete the catatonic cast.            What should be hilarious is woefully boring.  A bad script, uninspired acting, and aimless direction combine for the trifecta of disappointing, empty, and even embarrassing.

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