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'Fright Night' gets it right

- Ramon De Veyra () - September 10, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Remakes are a tricky business. Roger Ebert said they shouldn’t be made from great films; they should be made from bad films that had great concepts or ideas, but poor execution. Nonetheless, remakes tend to get made because Hollywood wants to save itself some headache; they get to market something the public already knows, whether through nostalgia or pop culture familiarity, instead of trying to sell them on something new, which they consider the harder sell. The movies themselves have the more difficult problem of living up to, if not bettering, their original. Most of the time, they fail (the recent Conan The Barbarian). Every now and then, they work (Ocean’s Eleven, The Thomas Crown Affair).

The new Fright Night, from director Craig Gillespie (Lars And The Real Girl), falls in the latter category. It’s got some confident, understated direction from Gillespie (I appreciate the lack of slowed-down action scenes, so prevalent in modern movies). It has a clever script from TV veteran Marti Noxon, who’s not just written episodes of Mad Men but has a bunch of Buffy The Vampire Slayer credits under her belt, giving her experience with not just vampires but the smart-alecky teens who fight them. Most importantly, it has solid performances from a fine cast, who play their roles with gusto.

David Tennant & Anton Yelchin are your plucky heroes.

Colin Farrell is vampire-next-door Jerry, and performs with a commitment that’s admirable. The tendency to go overboard with the tongue-in-cheek, wink-wink, we’re-in-a-vampire-movie schtick isn’t lost on him, and while he does play the role with some relish, he doesn’t go “loud” the way I’d expect someone like, say, Nicolas Cage to, given the chance. Anton Yelchin plays Charley Brewster, our hero, a former geek who’s now among the cool crowd. Imogen Poots is his girlfriend Amy, and the always dependable Toni Collette is his mother. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is his geek ex-best-friend, the one he unceremoniously dumped to become popular. Mintz-Plasse has a great scene with Farrell; they’re a pair I never expected to see together, but it works. The actor who does get to have a lot of fun is David Tennant, who some of you might know as the 10th Doctor Who. He plays Peter Vincent, a Criss Angel-type illusionist who claims to know the most about how to slay vampires, and thus gets a visit from Charley for advice. His character’s pompous, narcissistic performer parody is a hoot.

In supporting roles are James Franco’s younger brother Dave, and Reid Ewing from Modern Family. In fact, for fans of that show, watch out for Sofia Vergara’s younger sister Sandra, who is identifiable not just through her figure (similar to her sister’s) but her accent (ditto). For fans of the original, keep an eye open for Chris Sarandon’s cameo.

Toni Collette and Imogen Poots are the women (mom and girlfriend, respectively) in Charley (Anton Yelchin)’s life.

Fright Night reminded me of another cult film I love (and not just because of the name): Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners. They both have that ‘80s movie feel with the less bombastic scope of action (usually a small town) and relatable characters with quippy dialogue. They both get to achieve that rare balance of genres, being funny when they want to be and being scary when they want to be. All of it adds up to an enjoyable night at the cinema.

ANTON YELCHIN BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER CHARLEY BREWSTER CHRIS SARANDON CHRISTOPHER MINTZ-PLASSE COLIN FARRELL CONAN THE BARBARIAN DAVID TENNANT FRIGHT NIGHT
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