October 10, 2014

Dracula Untold

 Can I keep my hair? Yes? You gotta a deal!

Grade: C
Director: Gary Shore
Starring: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Art Parkinson and Charles Dance
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.

Apparently, the untold story of Dracula is that between brutally impaling Turks invading his homeland of Wallachia and later becoming a bloodsucking, undead agent of Satan, Prince Vlad III Dracul was a benevolent leader, doting family man and all-around great guy. Who knew?

In Dracula Untold, after expelling the invading Ottomans around 1462, Vlad (Luke Evans) locked away his dragon-embossed suit of armor, put up his poles and settled down with his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) to raise their son Ingeras (Art Parkinson) and peaceably preside over his kingdom. Unfortunately, when Turk soldiers start disappearing again, Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), Vlad’s old chum from a military school for kidnapped kids, demands a tribute of sacks of silver coins plus 1,000 Wallachian youngsters, including Ingeras, to conscript into the Turkish army.

That gets Vlad’s blood pumping, and rather to accede to Mehmed’s ransom he decides to risk the looming Ottoman onslaught. Knowing his army can’t withstand 100,000 testy Turks, Vlad climbs Broken Tooth Mountain (yes, that’s the name they give it) to visit the carnivorous cave vampire (Charles Dance) living there and ask for a sample of his superhuman abilities.

They reach the Faustian bargain that Vlad will drink the vampire’s blood and gain his strength, heightened senses and a cool trick of dissolving into a cloud of bats to quickly move about. However, Vlad also develops an insatiable thirst for human blood, and if he succumbs to it over the next three days, he becomes eternally damned (and the audience along with him) while freeing the Master Vamp from his centuries-long curse. Still, it appears Vlad’s deal is a bit sweeter because while the OV looks decrepit, Vlad somehow gets to retain his dark locks and smoldering good looks.

A lot of ropey CGI ensues involving Vlad single-handedly taking out nearly the entire Turkish troops, save for whenever the plot-by-numbers requires that he and Mehmed faceoff. However, the PG-13 rating portends a rather bloodless spectacle, a muddled, quick-cutting dervish designed to stave off the dark lords of the MPAA ratings board that’ll also act as garlic to die-hard Dracula fans.

More befuddling than the jarringly anachronistic dialogue and decidedly British cast of Romanians and Turks is the fact that the storyline actively seeks to weave historical context into a fable that’s inherently fantastic. What’s left is a thrown-together monster mashup that fails as both an origin story and action-thriller.

Dracula Untold isn’t unwatchable but has little reason for being. Between the Gothic Universal original, the horror-filled Hammer reprise and Francis Ford Coppola’s still-underrated stylish iteration, there are few corridors left unexplored around Castle Dracula. This Game of Groans doesn’t drive a stake into the heart of the Dracula legend, but there just aren’t many veins left to be tapped.

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