Colin Farrell has made memorable appearances in movies ranging from the sublime (Terrence Malick’s The New World) to the superheroic (as the villain Bullseye in Daredevil) to the silly (this year’s Horrible Bosses). The guy seems incapable of giving a bad performance, and proves it again in this tongue-in-cheek reboot of the two-flick 1980s Fright Night franchise. Yes, Farrell even can play a smugly smartass vampire in a throwaway remake without seeming to be slumming — and with an American accent, to boot.
The charismatic Farrell is by far the best thing about this otherwise unexceptional retread, which doesn’t take itself seriously enough to be genuinely scary but isn’t consistently comic enough to work as an outright goof. The screenplay has a bad case of Buffy The Vampire Slayer syndrome, in other words, with a winking lack of commitment that’s supposed to be endearingly ironic but only feels obvious and uninspired.
High schooler Charley (Anton Yelchin) refuses to believe claims by his embarrassingly geeky former best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) that Charley’s new neighbor Jerry (Farrell) is a vampire. To Fright Night‘s credit, the movie doesn’t bother wasting time with any attempts at misdirection. It’s obvious from the start that the reason smooth-talking Jerry sleeps during the daytime isn’t really because he’s a night construction worker.
After Ed has an unfortunate encounter with Jerry’s fangs, Charley finds evidence proving Jerry is invisible on home video — a modern-day corollary to the rule that says vampires don’t cast reflections. Charley sneaks into Jerry’s house to confirm his suspicions, and away we go.
Imogen Poots plays Charley’s girlfriend Amy, a skinny-sexy and kinda slutty knockout who is so insanely hot that Charley’s friends wonder if he has a genie lamp at home. (That’s one way to explain casting that doesn’t make sense.) Don’t get too excited, though. Because it’s not the ’80s anymore, there’s not even a second of nudity in the movie.
Supporting character Peter Vincent, played by Roddy McDowall as a past-his-prime TV host in the original Fright Night, has been upgraded here to a sleazy Criss Angel-like Vegas showman with a museum’s worth of supernatural esoterica and weaponry. David Tennant plays him with flamboyantly campy flair that’s inconsistent with the rest of the movie’s flatter and less outright loony ambience.
Another change is that vampire Jerry is now a self-sufficient loner, with no equivalent of the first movie’s assistant/guardian character Billy Cole. And nobody goes werewolf this time around.
Getting back to the movie’s good points, Jerry’s casually smarmy manner is consistently entertaining, whether he’s helpfully advising Charley that “women who look a certain way, they need to be managed” or noting that “it takes a real man to wear puce.” He’s like Seinfeld‘s deadpan, self-satisfied and slightly off David Puddy, asking very non-dark-master-like questions such as “hey, buddy, can you do me a solid?”
Farrell’s smirking attitude is almost enjoyable enough to make the movie worth seeing, and some of his bits of stage business — such as reacting to a threatening sunbeam with a quick cat-like hiss, or catching a falling apple a la Twilight — are genuinely funny. But almost everything else about Fright Night kind of bites.