“ [sigh] You know, it’s … not terrible. But it’s just OK. I’m not seeing the level of creativity I would like to see.”
That’s Nina Garcia eviscerating another would-be designer on “Project Runway” a few weeks ago. But I’m quoting Ms. G because she completely nailed my feelings about “Fright Night,” a remake of the goofy and entertaining 1985 horror-comedy about a teen boy whom no one believes when he claims a vampire moves in next door.
In fact, the new “Fright Night” is actually an improvement in many ways — it's good enough, and entertaining enough, and scary enough. It's just that by Labor Day, you’ll probably forget you even saw it.
The original was shot in a quiet neighborhood that was very obviously a studio backlot, but this update features a very specific setting: a sun-baked suburb of Las Vegas where former nerd Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) lives with his mom Jane (Toni Collette). Since Sin City is known for its nightlife and its transient population, what better place for a vampire who wants his crimes to escape notice?
Except in this case, they don’t: Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Charley’s onetime best friend — back when they used to go to “Farscape” conventions together — worries that lots of families in the neighborhood have been disappearing since the charismatic Jerry (Colin Farrell) moved next door to the Brewsters. So of course Ed is convinced that Jerry has been sinking his teeth into the locals.
Charley dismisses Ed’s fears until Ed himself disappears, and Charley finds enough evidence to prove that something creepy is going on at Jerry’s place. With the help of his girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots) and flamboyant magician Peter Vincent (David Tennant) — a Criss Angel/Russell Brand hybrid who’s both more and less than he seems in the fearless-vampire-killer department — Charley sets out to stake the bloodsucker down the street.
Screenwriter Marti Noxon, a key member of TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” brain trust, shows a sure hand in updating the material and in making the characters more interesting than they might have been in the hands of another writer. Charley, Amy, and Ed feel like fleshed-out, interesting teenagers, and the notion that Charley would leave his geek roots behind to have a chance with pretty, popular Amy makes for an interesting subplot.
And while the whole 3D craze just gets more and more annoying, director Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”) at least decides to have fun with it, hurling crucifixes, bricks, and gobs of viscera right at the audience. If a movie has to be in 3D, let it indulge in shameless paddle-ball-at-the-camera-lens action every so often, or what’s the point?
Gillespie’s lucky to have such a talented ensemble working with him — Farrell projects equal parts seduction and menace as the sinister Jerry, and Yelchin keeps Charley from ever turning into too much of a chirpy boy scout. Mintz-Plasse and Tennant both get roles that give them license to ham it up, but they wisely go big without making it too broad. As the plucky Amy, Poots is anything but a helpless victim, and even Collette finds some fun in the thankless mom role. (Gillespie directed six episodes of Collette’s Showtime series “The United States of Tara.”)
So with this much going for it, why is “Fright Night” simply good and not great? The pacing has a lot to do with it, and strangely enough, it’s one of the problems from the original movie (written and directed by Tom Holland) that Noxon can’t seem to fix. In both versions, there’s the confirmation that Jerry is a vampire, and there’s the final confrontation — and in between, a big chunk of get-on-with-it-already. It’s the first movie’s biggest flaw, and it’s surprising that no one involved with the remake took a whack at it.
Still, if nothing else, “Fright Night” confirms what critics have always said — if Hollywood insists on creating so many remakes, leave the classics untouched and take another crack at the just-OK ones instead.
This movie may fall into the just-OK category itself, but that’s still lots better than most horror movies that come slinking into theaters in late August bearing a familiar title and little else of interest.