In his encore to playing “60 Minutes” interrogator Mike Wallace in “The Insider,” Christopher Plummer is again going after big game in “Dracula 2000,” the latest attempt at dragging Bram Stoker’s well-traveled vampire into modern times – a frequent destination for the Count over the years.
Astute genre fans will recall the time he stepped off the train in Eisenhower-era Southern California wearing a dapper business suit and bowler in 1958’s “Return of Dracula.”
And they also will remember the time Christopher Lee’s transplanted Dracula tangled with mini-skirts and Euro-pop in “Dracula A.D. 1972.” Not to mention its sequel, “The Satanic Rites of Dracula,” in which the Count became a reclusive Howard Hughes-like mogul living a modern high-rise.
Trying for something new, “Dracula 2000” places the vampire king in millennial New Orleans during Mardi Gras, where, of course, nobody pays any attention: he’s just another face in the dissipated crowd.
Lending a much-needed touch of class to the wavering enterprise, Plummer plays the latest in a long line of Prof. Van Helsings out to stake the 2000 Dracula to his claims.
Among those claims: a last-act “surprise” confessional that links his bloodline to somebody other than the Dracula clan (all these centuries of keeping it to himself and, suddenly, he’s inspired into an Oprah-worthy settling of accounts with his inner self).
When you find out who the Count really is, and who his former best friend really was, you’ll either be blown away or, more likely, tempted to cry “uncle.”
It’s a safe bet that Dracula creator Bram Stoker – no stranger to violations of his work – would opt for the latter were he around to defend himself. And not only thanks to the Big Surprise At The End.
Look what they’ve done to his leading man.
Imagine the Count played as a buff, shirt-opened-to-his-navel graduate of the David Hasselhoff School of Theatrical Arts (the diploma holder is one Gerard Butler) and you’ve got “Dracula 2000,” even though “Baywatch 2000” never seems far away.
As Matthew Van Helsing, allegedly the 21st-century heir to famed vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing, Plummer remains nonplused while all others around him are succumbing to the script’s queasy mix of snide camp and bombastic pretension (“I never have … coffee,” deadpans Dracula in a lame variant of Bela Lugosi’s signature “I never drink … wine”; several scenes later, he’s sternly lecturing us about his tragic past, tongue out of cheek).
The premise: Van Helsing runs an antique emporium in London, where, down in the cellar vault, he keeps his prize item, Dracula’s coffin. When the shop becomes the target of a break-in, the coffin is sprung, Dracula is regenerated and the band of thieves is promptly vampirized.
Dracula’s new disciples – an amusing and lively crew – book him passage on the first jetliner back to America, where he winds up in New Orleans at Mardi Gras time, which is where, coincidentally, Van Helsing’s estranged daughter Mary (Justine Waddell) lives and works (since Dracula is famously partial to innocent blood, the spectacle of Mary employed at a Virgin Megastore, usually wearing a T-shirt with the corporate logo on it apparently is meant to pass for sublime satire).
Eventually, papa shows up, along with his faithful antique store assistant Simon (Jonny Lee Miller), to save what remains of the day. But what price saving the day? Not only does Dracula have a family secret in his closet, so, too, does Van Helsing, whose experiments with leeches and Dracula’s blood and his own daughter have led to further complications.
To his credit, Plummer diligently keeps a straight face while invoking the same mittle-European accent Laurence Olivier concocted for his version of Van Helsing in the 1979 remake of “Dracula.” The other cast members – including Gerard Butler’s smarmy Hasselhoff count – are less sure of how to play things as the script careens between camp and myth.
Incidentally, “Wes Craven Presents …” is incorporated into the film’s title in the ads and credits, but don’t be misled: the redoubtable “Scream”-meister is merely one of three executive producers. He had nothing to do with the writing or direction. It’s merely a case of easily marketed product placement.
The title might as well be “Wes Craven Says You Ought To Go See Dracula 2000 Even Though It Doesn’t Look Like Anything He Ever Made Himself.”
rating * *
Copyright 2001 The Pantagraph