Monsters, Inc.


Returning to pulp territory after The Devil’s Backbone, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro cribs from his earlier work in an attempt to breathe life into Blade II, a sequel to the 1998 Marvel Comics-inspired potboiler. The results rely more on Backbone‘s gothic pulchritude and Mimic‘s patent silliness than the whip-smart revisionism of Cronos, and whereas that 1992 film slyly steered the vampire genre into new terrain, the appallingly violent Blade II only wrestles it to the ground and sits on its head.

The titular vampire-hunting hybrid (Wesley Snipes, who still delivers his lines like he’s chewing a mouthful of Old Testament) is now living in Prague with a new sidekick and, eventually, the resurrected old one (Kris Kristofferson). The trio forms an uneasy alliance with an elite vampire militia to track down and exterminate a mutant strain of bloodsuckers called Reapers, who are as conveniently adept at kung fu acrobatics as their more evolved brethren. The team infiltrates the undead subculture—which looks like a Pepsi commercial shot in an s&m club—and confronts the mosquito-like creatures in their subterranean lair. There are several double crosses, a few telegraphed plot twists, and a dozen changes of fetish-wear before the final confrontation.

Screenwriter David S. Goyer’s wan, Omega Man-on-steroids premise inflates every well-worn trope of the genre, and even drags in a few contemporary hot buttons: mutating viruses, drug addiction, genetic engineering, and (fleetingly) race hatred. But effective horror, as del Toro seems to have grasped elsewhere, tends to rely on the abasement of deeply held values, not the antics of cardboard-cutout ghouls or vague, headline-inspired jitters. The only thing Blade II values is its ability to deliver a staggering body count. Del Toro’s overripe style may fit the film’s comic-book milieu to a T, but the only dread it inspires is in the possibility that its director prefers turning human flesh into CGI-enhanced mush over exploring genuinely frightening material.

Hal Hartley’s own take on monster movies, No Such Thing, is just as frustrating a cinematic renovation. Feeding on the same artist-parasite/beauty-beast dichotomies as Henry Fool but with none of its seedy warmth, this dour, solipsistic lark concerns an indestructible beast (Robert John Burke) with a raging death wish. Aided by sweet-natured journalist Beatrice (Sarah Polley), the monster dodges meddling government agents and a cynical TV news producer (an overreaching Helen Mirren) to achieve his suicidal goal.

Too intensely focused on the travails of being Hal Hartley to function as pastiche, No Such Thing is Hartley’s least accessible screed yet. He tosses out ideas and obscure references (the monster-meets-kindly-newswoman setup is straight out of a Toho movie) like confetti, with no apparent concern over whether or not they’ll stick. Thematic muddle aside, the film’s appeal lies in Burke’s ranting charisma, Julie Christie’s thankless turn as a sympathetic doctor, and Michael Spiller’s radiant cinematography, which frequently captures the mythic grandeur that eludes Hartley’s narrative grasp.