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Review: Bloody 'Blade' has fangs, but no bite

Web posted on: Wednesday, September 02, 1998 3:59:32 PM

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- What in the world is Wesley Snipes doing?! This guy is an honest-to-God actor, but in recent months we've seen the results of his increasing tendency towards serving time as little more than an action director's plaything.

First came "U.S. Marshals," during which he ran around a whole lot and quite unbelievably went swinging off the tops of buildings via a reeaaallll long rope. And now there's "Blade."

In this one, Snipes (playing the titular vampire-fighting hero) kicks, shoots, burns, punches, gouges, stabs, pierces, and generally guts hundreds of people under the guise of good old-fashioned Hollywood "escapism." My question is, if audiences are trying so desperately to escape whatever's got them all worked up in their daily lives, how is this any better?

This thing never lets up, not for a second, and I'm sure that that's goosing a lot of you into the theater before you're even done reading this sentence.

Clip: "The world belongs to us"
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Clip: "Fight scene"
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Bloody first scene just an hors d'oeuvre

Blade (based on a Marvel comics hero, rather than the lesser-known Thomas Hardy character you might have been expecting) is the offspring of a woman who, as the movie begins, gets bitten real bad by a vampire and is rushed to the hospital. She then goes into elaborately painful labor; her pain is made abundantly clear by sticking the camera right in the actress' face. That tactic conveniently affords you a front-row view of the dripping, ripped meat that used to be her neck. She screams in agony as the blood gushes and her baby is delivered.

Consider that an hors d'oeuvre, because you'll be getting a 240-course meal of gore as the movie proceeds.

You've never seen so much blood and whoosh-boom-zap brutality in your life ... and, again, I mean that as a criticism. Now, don't think I'm one of those types who imagines kids all over this fine country of ours are gonna start rampaging and sucking necks due to the movie's nasty influence. "Blade," though, is a whole lot further removed from story-telling than it is from ambulance chasing. That the first full sequence of the film takes place in a big-city slaughterhouse would be funny, if, in fact, it was funny.

Just like the groovy werewolves in "An American Werewolf in Paris," these modern-day vampires seem to have been crossbred with skinny, Euro-trash fashion models. After a gullible citizen is lured into a party at the slaughterhouse by a sexy vampiress (Traci Lords; make up your own joke), we see hundreds of mannequin types in overpriced uptown clothes boogying and looking immensely pleased with their fabulous bone structure. Traci's meal quickly starts catching on that maybe he doesn't belong there, and not just because he doesn't like sit-ups and Sade albums.

Everyone's a vampire

You see, everybody in the joint is a vampire, and their favorite part of the evening is when showers are turned on above the dance floor and they get to wallow in the blood that shoots down from the ceiling. (Director Stephen Norrington shuns subtlety to the same degree that his characters shun sunlight.) Everybody starts going after the fresh meat during the shower -- to the beat of a pulsing electronic dance song -- but the fun stops when Blade suddenly shows up.

Then there's a 5- or 10-minute sequence during which Snipes blows flesh and blood all over the place. I mean, the walls of one of the rooms (where there aren't any shower nozzles) are caked with blood when he's done. Let's face it -- making everybody a vampire and pretending that there's a story behind it is a very thin pretext to butchering folks on camera. Plain and simple. It may not be the official intention, but it's the fully expected result.

Soon after that, Blade rescues a young doctor (N'bushe Wright) who's been chomped by one of the undead. After achieving a higher level of street cool courtesy of the unflinching re-setting of the doctor's dislocated shoulder -- SNAP! -- Blade takes her to his secret hangout. There she meets his partner in killing, Abraham Whistler. Kris Kristofferson, of all people, plays Whistler, with paunch in full view. (Incredibly clever commercial movie joke -- when we first see Whistler, he's listening to "Bad Moon Rising" on his tape deck.)

Off-green flesh, but great shirts

The rest of the picture consists of Blade and the doctor tracking down the chic-est, most hotheaded of all the vampires, a fashionable little guy named Frost (Stephen Dorff). Frost always looks like he's battling seasickness, with off-green being his flesh's favorite hue. And, lest we forget, he's got great shirts.

Those of you who care to see Snipes giving a damn -- rather than kicking, spinning, and posing for two hours -- would be well-advised to rent a 1992 movie called "The Waterdance." The movie (which co-stars Eric Stoltz and Helen Hunt) is about a group of men who are coming to terms with their new lives as paraplegics. Snipes is (at turns) angry, passionate, gentle, and hopeful, as far removed from this "Blade" foolishness as you could possibly get. He could be one of the finest actors around if people would just go see his meaningful work. Don't force this guy to go jumping off of any more buildings. It's hard enough enjoying movies as it is.

So much for "Saving Private Ryan" ushering in a new wave of sensitivity towards "exciting" on-screen violence. So many people get covered head-to-toe in blood during "Blade," it starts to look like a conclave of "Carrie" impersonators. People all over the place are swarming to see it, so, who knows, you may not want to be left behind. Remember, though, that's exactly why you got your hair permed when you were in high school. Rated R. 120 minutes.

New Line Cinema, a Time Warner property, is a sister company to CNN Interactive.

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