The summer of remakes and restarts continues with “Fright Night,” a remake of the 1980s cult classic that mixed comedy with gore.
I wasn’t as big a fan of the original as its hardcore audience (I actually prefer the sequel with its creepier and darker vibe), but I still had enough affection for it that I was kind of leery of a remake.
Fortunately those doubts are eased by a pretty good update. This “Fright Night” manages to stay true to the original’s tone, while enhancing the material, resulting in a fun little horror flick with a nice, creepy vibe.
Anton Yelchin plays Charlie, a carefree teenager who starts to suspect his new neighbor, Jerry (Colin Farrell), is a vampire.
No one believes Charlie at first, but things change when Jerry starts to taunt Charlie - targeting Charlie’s single mother (Toni Collette) and Charlie’s girlfriend (Imogen Poots).
With no one to turn to, Charlie seeks the help of a self-proclaimed vampire killer and Las Vegas magician named Peter (David Tennant), and the duo set out to stop Jerry before he assembles an army of vampires.
With crisp direction from Craig Gillespie and a clever screenplay by Marti Noxon that balances the horror elements with some dark comic moments, this is a film that tweaks the original with some positive results. I like the Las Vegas setting, which plays perfectly into Jerry’s nocturnal activity. It’s also a nice touch to make Peter a Criss Angel-type Las Vegas act instead of the host of a late-night TV fright fest. Tennant plays Peter kind of like Russell Brand’s Aldous Snow - but it’s an imitation that works quite well.
Yelchin is also good as Charlie, while Collette and Poots are actually given the chance to play some stronger-than-expected female characters. There is also a great cameo that is sure to please fans of the original.
But the real star of this “Fright Night” is Farrell, who is the pulse of the film. The tabloid bad boy has a lot of fun here, playing off his bad boy image to create a pretty menacing predator. He’s charming, mysterious and very dangerous, making Jerry a pretty memorable vampire.
Farrell’s work alone is enough to make “Fright Night” worth a look.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “Win/Win” (A-), the latest from writer/director Thomas McCarthy (the man behind “The Visitor” and “The Station Agent”). Like the two previous films, this is a complex drama with some strong performances - including more memorable work from Paul Giamatti.
He plays Mike, a struggling lawyer and volunteer high school wrestling coach who makes himself the benefactor of an aging client (Burt Young) to help support his family.
When the client’s grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer) shows up, it looks like his plan is about to derail. Instead, Mike learns that Kyle is a troubled teenager who is also a very talented wrestler. Mike takes Kyle under his wing and the two form a bond, but it’s a shaky relationship with Mike trying to hide his money laundering from Kyle and the rest of Mike’s family.
This is one of those rare films that take complex characters and present their issues in a realistic way. Mike is a likable enough character, even with his shady dealings, and it’s a credit to McCarthy and Giamatti that the audience actually cares for the character.
Amy Ryan is great in a supporting role as Mike’s wife, while Shaffer is fantastic in his feature film debut.
I wasn’t as fond of the subplot with Kyle’s estranged mother (Melanie Lynskey), even though it is an essential part of the plot development. Her character is the only one that felt “movie-ish,” with her key moment coming so quick that it doesn’t quite have the emotional impact it should have.
The film’s finale also feels rushed, but it’s not enough to dampen a strong film anchored by some strong acting.
“Win/Win” is rated R for language, nudity, mild violence and teen smoking, and will be available Tuesday on DVD.