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Daybreakers Squanders Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe

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Daybreakers
Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig
Lionsgate
Opens January 8

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No fashion-conscious multiplex movie should face opening day without some grave issue of our day propped in its buttonhole. Last year's sci-fi blockbusters took on apartheid (District 9) and the Indian Wars (Avatar) not a moment too soon; Daybreakers dials up resource scarcity, class conflict, the Military-Industrial Complex, and big pharma. (Actual line: "It was never about a cure. It's about repeat business.") The rationed near-future of Daybreakers recalls Soylent Green—except everyone knows they're eating people, because almost everyone's a vampire in 2019. Where the trailer ploddingly spelled out the horror-dystopia setup ("Imagine a world . . ."), Daybreakers opens on a cool, obliquely shot, dialogue-free prologue that shows life after the vampire plague—and how frictionless-slick co-directors Michael and Peter Spierig are. Unrest grows as drinkable blood from living humans, now factory-farmed, runs out. Ethan Hawke plays a hesitant bloodsipper, a hematologist looking for a synthetic substitute, who falls in with a band of free-range mortals who're working on a cure while organic farming. There are pleasures here: The "Subsiders," degenerate, starving, cannibal Nosferatu, are effectively awful; Sam Neill is hambone-wicked as a vulpine CEO. But wearisome "Ain't it cool?" video-game splatter-violence is all that's memorable of the action, while a (mixed) metaphorical subtext of conservationism can't save a text that squanders its actors.

 
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