Moving Pictures
Apr 13, 2023, 06:27AM

Vampire Fiasco

Renfield is a massive misfire in nearly every way.

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We've already seen Nicolas Cage as a vampire (Vampire's Kiss), in New Orleans (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans), and as a guy who goes into a church and wreaks havoc (Face/Off.) In Renfield, a new take on the Dracula mythology, Cage does all of those things, with an accent and affectation that are just as enjoyable as you'd think a Dracula impression by Cage would be. As long he's talking, the movie succeeds.

Unfortunately, Renfield is a massive misfire in every other way. It's not as funny as it could’ve been, and the action scenes are horrendous. It's not as visually compelling as what’s implied by a New Orleans-set vampire movie starring Nicolas Cage. Strangest of all, it has the biggest gap in recent memory between the movie promised by an ad campaign and the eventual film. The trailers teased a horror-tinged comedy that wittily riffed on the Dracula legend, while the actual film is a standard action-adventure that drafts Dracula and Renfield onto an urban cop corruption story.

The film, directed by Chris McKay, puts Dracula and his sidekick/servant Renfield (Nicolas Hoult) in present-day New Orleans. Renfield, sick of his centuries-old role as the guy who collects bodies to bring to his master, is attending a therapy group for co-dependents, a joke that’s old after about five minutes but continues through the film's end.

The other side of the film is a Serpico riff that has Awkwafina as a New Orleans cop. Seemingly the only non-corrupt officer in the entire department, she's at war with a powerful crime syndicate led by Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz) and his mother Ella (Shohreh Aghdashloo). I’ve no idea how the Iran-born (and accented) Aghdashloo got to be the mother of New York Jew Schwartz, especially when they live in New Orleans and have the last name "Lobo."

The two halves fit together poorly, and I was struck by how low-stakes the corruption was, compared to the grisly on-screen murders repeatedly carried out by Cage’s Dracula. There wasn't a moment of the crime plot in which I didn't wish I was watching Werner Herzog's delightfully batshit, Cage-starring Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans instead.

The crime and vampire parts intersect about a half-dozen times, in action-adventure sequences that are bloody and incomprehensible. It's Tshaky-cam and constantly-spinning handheld photography galore, the style of horrific filmmaking that I’d thought was over. Haven't these filmmakers seen the John Wick movies?

The one sequence I liked, is a brawl in an outdoor apartment complex, as staged as a nearly shot-for-shot homage to Spike Jonze's video for the Beastie Boys' “Sabotage,” complete with knockoff music.

Renfield, in addition to the original 19th-century novel by Bram Stoker, is based on an idea from The Walking Dead co-creator Robert Kirkman, was written by Ryan Ridley, and directed by Chris McKay. A veteran of Robot Chicken and other Adult Swim shows, McKay previously directed the very entertaining The Lego Batman Movie in 2017 and then made 2021's The Tomorrow War, one of several forgettable streaming movies starring one of the Chrises that arrived during the pandemic era (this one was Pratt, on Prime Video). 


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