Poor Aaliyah. Stuart Townsend will move on, but this was her last movie, and the one some people will remember her by. She’s not that bad, it’s just that it’s a horribly written role in an overstuffed and unfocused movie.
Stuart Townsend, once Mr. Charlize Theron, stars as the vampire Lestat. The IMDb says that they actually first offered the job to Tom Cruise, and one can only imagine his polite-yet-appalled “Uh, no thanks.” Although he would have made sure we ended up with a better movie. Anyway, so Lestat got bored and wonewey and decided to go to sleep for a hundred years or so. But then he heard that rock and roll music, and it made him wake up so he could groove on the sound. Too bad he didn’t wake up during the 70s when he could enjoy some really interesting soul and R&B as well as rock, but the idea here [the kind of banal idea here] is that the Satanic rock of the 80s is in line with whole vampire thing. Apparently the book was responding to Goth rock, but the movie updated it to late-90s Marylin Manson rock. So before you know it he’s gathered this rock band and they’re blowin’ up. Apparently it’s a huge deal that he comes out publicly about being a vampire, this is a massive breach of decorum, but the whole narrative is so rushed that nothing here has any resonance whatsoever. This movie is the compression of two Anne Rice novels into one, The Vampire Lestat with Queen of the Damned, and this massive narrative surplus is its biggest problem.
So by the time the credits are over Lestat is a huge rock star. I’m sure the book had a bunch of semi-satirical ironic stuff about how Lestat’s whole vampire/death thing appeals to the masses, but it’s only alluded to here. Townsend is not that bad as a Lestat that seems more in line with what I understand he’s like in the books; beautiful and vain. He preens and acts like he has everyone in the palm on his hand, which he does. There’s a not-bad scene where two groupies end up in Lestat’s house and are all excited, saying having him suck a little blood isn’t so bad, and they end up eaten. It’s just one of the millions of things here that touches on something interesting without fully delving into it.
We then have some mystical intro of some girl being sent away by her Aunt, played by Lena Olin. Poor Lena Olin. Anyway, she grows up to be Jesse, sort of like what Willow would be if she were more confident and sassy, and she works at the Institute for Paranormal Studies or some such. She’s the kind of rarified paranormal intelligentsia that watches MTV News, where the VJ hilarious says in this bland voice “Lestat claims to be a vampire who has been asleep for over 100 years. Here’s a sneak look at the video…” So Jesse watches the video and is transfixed. Then she finds out that someone has Lestat’s diary [okay, remember Interview With the Vampire and imagine Lestat going home every night and writing in his diary], which she outfits herself in this red robe festooned with rhinestones and sequins to read. This is where we get a huge flashback to Lestat’s story, which I assume is the bulk of the material adapted from the novel The Vampire Lestat.
We find out that Lestat was made a vampire by this dude Marius, because he thought it would be cool to live forever, but didn’t realize he’d be wonewey, so vewy wonewey. And apparently the harsh reality that he can never know someone he won’t one day kill—like this gypsy woman he makes beautiful music with—starts to settle in, and our little Lestat is a bitter biter. This whole flashback is to establish who Marius is and thus give some of the later parts of the movie some resonance, but the irony is that they pack so much in here they rob the entire movie of any resonance.
So one day Lestat was chillin’ with his violin, grinding out a little tune, when suddenly his bow flies across the room and under this chest, where he finds a hidden passageway. This leads down to this massive chamber where there are two statues. Lestat’s first impulse is to play for the statues, and he does, his music making the female statue pulse with life. There is an inadvertently powerful visual here when we see a vein within the statue pulse with blood. Lestat drinks from the statue [hard on the teeth!] and you can see her start to come alive, but not all the way. I think Marius finds him, and next thing you know Marius has deserted Lestat and taken his statues with him, and we’re supposed to understand that Lestat is devastated by this, if anything here had any emotional impact.
So meanwhile in the present day Jesse is all obsessed and goes to hang out at the vampire nightclub. She gets in quite easily, making one wonder how good vampire doorstaff really are, and we notice that the vampires are all uber-cool alterna-folk in leathery getups with lots of buckles and straps. This makes me wish there were a movie about a vampire that looks like Mr. Rogers and lives a quiet life in a suburban house except when he goes out to feast on the blood of the living. Anyway, Jesse is forbidden to fraternize with vampires, but she is anyway, and elsewhere a reunited Lestat and Marius are hanging out above the city on a billboard—right in the crotch of the image of the ad. Then Aaliyah shows up at the nightclub—she came to life somewhere back there—and she does her ooky pooky dance as she wanders around making bug eyes and flaring her nostrils. She eats one vampire’s heart, but due to what they don’t show it really looks like she ripped off his nuts and is eating them. Then she incinerates all the vampires, which she can do with just a flick of her finger. Anyway, she’s looking for Lestat.
SPOILERS [BUT NOT REALLY] > > > So through an extremely complicated series of circumstances, Jesse gets taken to Lestat’s house for food, but he can tell that she’s different. She begs him to make her a vampire and he answers simply “alright.” Hmmm, I thought it was a little more complicated than that. Anyway, next we’re off to this big [rather impossibly big] concert in the desert, where Lestat is performing, and there are a bunch of vampires in the audience. Lestat sings this song [which, I regret to say, is not all that bad], then all of a sudden Aaliyah breaks up through the stage! Then there is some onstage vampire-on-vampire combat! You will also take note of some vampire movement special effects that really look like they’d be more at home on a local cable access show. Then she whisks Lestat away and, you know, sucks him.
Now I think I mentioned that Lestat’s voice-over is rather ill-advised, but I did not yet mention Jesse’s separate voice-over, which is VERY ill-advised. Anyway, somehow she’s in this desert retreat which she remembers from childhood or whatever. Turns out she’s reunited with her aunt Lena Olin, who’s a vampire and this is why she had to dump Jesse somewhere and why Jesse is all obsessed with vampires.
So Lestat wakes up and Aaliyah takes him outside and he sees a ton of dead bodies laying around a pool, and a bunch more by the beach, and it turns out he and Aaliyah did this together. She thinks it’s awesome, but he thinks it was a mean, nasty, low-down dirty thing to do. Pay attention to this tiny scene, mon frere, as I think this is supposed to represent the big threat Aaliyah represents, and also why Lestat would turn on her. And it goes by in a flash!
So Aaliyah shows up in the courtyard to show off her man, but soon all of the vampires, including Lestat, turn on her, and finally Lena Olin takes her down, turning into a statue in the process. Then Lestat and Jesse go see Jesse’s old colleague and reveal that she is now a vampire, the end.
< < < SPOILERS END
It was bad, but its main problem is that it’s just trying to cram so much in that nothing has any impact or resonance. I listened to a tiny bit of the commentary and the director even says he told Anne Rice that this should be an eight-hour miniseries rather than a less-than-two-hour film. Too bad he didn’t realize that he shouldn’t make it for that reason, because he’s just going to be known for making a terrible movie. Characters that are supposed to have a lot of impact—Like Marius and whoever Lena Olin was—just come and go, barely making a ripple. And things like Aaliyah’s big rampage—I was left after the movie going “So, what was everyone’s problem with her?” and had to think back and put together that THAT was her rampage and the problem she presented—it made that little impact. So it’s not terrible through ineptitude, just mostly through the really bad decision to combine two of the novels.
It’s also not that great or that fun, either. I thought it might be kind of amusing—vampires usually are—and that its crappy qualities would make it amusing. Not really. It’s just kind of a load of crap. Not an unwatchable load of crap, just… a general load of crap.