All in Vein

Clichs are the real killers in the anemic action film Vampires

Scary or not, there's energy in the way Carpenter frames and cuts his movies, and there's energy to spare in Woods's performance. The spectacle of Woods coming out of his skin is always a pleasure, even in a lousy film, and he's been in a few of those. With his hyperintelligent, jittery asides and eye-rolling self-deprecation, he does a jaunty swagger more endearingly than almost any other contemporary actor. Woods is so familiar in character roles that his unique likability as a hero is sometimes overlooked; he may be the most underrated leading man in American movies.

He certainly does more to save John Carpenter's Vampires than the director, who felt compelled to add his name to the title. Maybe that pretentious flourish will give rise to a whole new horror-film subgenre: the signature vampire movie. Maybe we can expect Woody Allen's Vampires, Spike Lee's Vampires, Oliver Stone's Vampires and, on PBS, the six-part Ken Burns's Vampires.

-- M.V. Moorhead

John Carpenter's Vampires.
Rated R.
Directed by John Carpenter. With James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Thomas Ian Griffith and Sheryl Lee.

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