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blade
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Blade

Starring Wesley Snipes and Steven Dorff, N'Bushe Wright and Kris Kristofferson
Screenplay by David S. Goyer
Blade and Deacon Frost created for Marvel Comics by Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan
Directed by Stephen Norrington
Website: www.lycos.com/blade/

IN SHORT:  Bloody. As in bloody damned disappointing.

For the record, the character Blade was created in a 1970s era Marvel comic Book called Tomb of Dracula by Marv Wolfman (writer) and Gene Colan (artist), both of whom are properly and prominently credited at the top of the flick. Long term readers know that Cranky collects comics and thus is predisposed to like adaptations. Marvel has a history of not giving creators credit in their books, so the opening credit was warmly applauded by Cranky, as was the opening sequence of the flick. From there on in, it's almost all downhill.

Blade, the character, wasn't a major star in the Marvel Universe, and so never carried the kind of set-in-stone history that Spider-Man does. Blade doesn't mess with the Origin, of a baby "infected" by the vampire bite which killed his mother during the birthing process. Due to the mingling of blood, the child grows with strength and speed equivalent to the blood sucker. He also suffers from a never-ending thirst for blood and has made it his goal to find and destroy the monster that killed his mom and created him. Over the course of five years of stories, this one dimensional origin evolved and Blade developed what could actually be called a personality (as did all the characters in TOD, which normally doesn't happen in comics and which made TOD a standout book. Which didn't stop it from getting cancelled, but I digress...)

The origin of the title character, as told onscreen and recounted above, hasn't changed much. That alone should have given Blade a leg up over other Marvel film adaptations, which have been cheesy and, to put it kindly, painfully wretched. But a substantial production budget has been wasted emphasizing special effects over a convoluted script that, in the vernacular, bites. Director Stephen Norrington shows more talent for thinking in the visual rather than guiding the actors in the process of developing their characters.

Blade starts well. The movie's opening sequence, set in a vampire nightclub, has more blood and killing than any fan of the genre could hope for. An electro-throbbing tech score by composer Mark Isham keeps everything moving as a dumb human is promised an evening of "surprise." If you've had any kind of exposure to this genre you know what that surprise is going to be. The sequence genuinely rocks, kicking into high gear with a literal bloodbath and the arrival of our hero, beginning a slaughter filled with special effects, high tech weaponry, and martial arts. While vampires explode in special effects glory, we meet a long term adversary of the vampire hunter, named Quinn (Donal Logue).

Quinn is just dying to get his hands on Blade, which is the only clue I'm going to give you about one of the funniest recurring jokes in this otherwise testosterone OD of a package. Blade is filled with all sorts of funny asides and action sequences that will make it a good midnight movie someday, and would have made a 14 year old slaughter and action loving Cranky happy as a clam. Problem is, Cranky ain't fourteen. A rocking start and an equally rocking final battle with evil vampire Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) are the bookends of a poorly written script by David S. Goyer. To Cranky, who knows the form, it felt like Goyer sat down to write a comic book story, and then adapted that back into movie script form -- only he lost a couple of pages along the way. There are big gaps in the story continuity. A a simple story is made so complex that the entire movie devolves into a mass of special effects that will either enflame the raging heart of the teenager inside of you, or make your jaw drop low as your adult mind listens to all the narrative exposition that passes for dialog and thinks "this is terrible".

It would have been more than enough to limit the story to that of Blade (Wesley Snipes), his mentor Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) and innocent victim Dr. Karen Jenson (N'Bushe Wright), a hematologist bitten in an attack who faces an almost inevitable "turning." The search for Blade's creator and the vampire world that surrounds him provides more than enough story to support the action sequences that are director Norrington's strength. But dropped on top of that simple frame is a ton of political intrigue involving Frost and ruling vampire Dragonetti (Udo Kier); the History of Vampire Civilization and the 12 ruling Houses of Erebus who have operated under a treaty with Mankind that Frost threatens to break; of a vampire Bible written in a dead (and implied untranslatable) language containing a prophecy about "The Spirits of The Twelve awakening La Magra, the Blood God" and unleashing a Blood Plague that will destroy or turn all remaining humankind into vampires.

Which proves once again that evil supervillains are the dumbest creatures on the face of the earth. If vampires kill off all the humans, what is the net result? A lot of very hungry vampires.

What's worse is that almost all the characters are even less than two dimensional. Stephen Dorff, as Frost, gives it his best "lets toss attitude like Denis Leary" try, but an hour and a half of nonsensical dialog doesn't give him time to build a villain that a grown up audience member could really love to hate. Donal Logue stands out only because a) he tells the best jokes and b) he's the butt of the gruesome running joke hinted at above. Star Snipes must have locked it in his brain that he's playing a comic book character, because he doesn't bring anything to the tale to make us sympathize with the thing that Blade is -- not human, not vampire, not loved.

Then again, if you're a teen, or an aficionado of B-movie action/horror genre flicks (like long term Cranky contributor Trent Haaga, off starring in the next Troma flick, which is why he's not adding his comments here) you're going to be pleased. The basic four elements are all here -- slice 'n' dice, martial arts action, lots of blood and hot babes. The special effects, ninety per cent of 'em, are terrific. The audience Cranky sat with, all waiting and waiting for a good dose of the ultraviolence, cheered when we finally got to the really nasty stuff at the end of the flick, including a great decapitation, the FX manifestation of the Blood God and a final sword battle between Blade and Frost. Then, of course, comes the tacked on set-up-the-sequel scene at the very end. Check your brain at the door and wait solely for the effects

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Blade, he would have paid . . .

$2.00

I can't even put Blade at the rental level, 'cuz it's a two hour loss if you're looking for the basics of a good story underneath a good action flick. For those who like arcane trivia, the movie reveals what the Tomb of Dracula stories never did -- as far as Cranky can remember -- Blade's real name. That means absolutely nothing to anyone outside of the comics collecting universe, but Cranky's lived there many years and the revelation was a nice touch.

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