Vampire in Brooklyn
Review by Mike Finkelstein
There was a time where Eddit Murphy was considered one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. He had a winning streak of movies, from the Beverly Hills Cop series, to Trading Places and 48 Hours, all on top of sold-out comedy shows and hugely popular specials. Murphy was able to command big pay days for his big movies, and Hollywood agreed.
Eventually, though, every actor hits a bit of a rough patch, where their movies aren't as popular, people are tired of the actor's shtick, and things start to fall apart. Although it's arguable which film was the beginning -- Harlem Nights only made back its money, Another 48 Hours under performed (even if it did make more than the first movie), The Distinguished Gentleman was a quickly forgotten near-bomb -- but no failure of his career was bigger at the time than Vampire in Brooklyn.
Going back and watching the film again (something I haven't done since the previous version of this site) I found a movie that, yes, likely wasn't going to do well with audiences. It's a flawed film with a lot that really needed to be tweaked by writers Charles Q. Murphy, Michael Lucker, and Chris Parker as well as director Wes Craven. It's overly long, confused as to if it wants to be funny or scary, and lacks a really strong sense of its own story. And yet, it does have compelling performances from its leads, Murphy and Angela Bassett, and that almost make the film work. With the right editing I think this film could have been salvaged. For some reason that just didn't happen.
In a power move a la Dracula, vampire Maximilian (Murphy) rolls into town on a derelict ship, having fed on all of her crew during his voyage. Crashing into the docks, which are managed by Silas Green (John Witherspoon) and his nephew Julius Jones (Kadeem Hardison), Max quickly makes his way out into Brooklyn, NYC, so he can find the last living daughter of his tribe of vampires and half-vampires. Max has to find her, woo her, and make her a vampire by the next full moon or, well, something bad will happen to him (he'll die or something, but that isn't really well explained in the film). Maximilian takes a shine to Julius, seeing him as a lowly, no-good thief and con-artist, traits Max likes, so he turns the man into a ghoul to serve a Max's side during his quest for romance.
While Maximilian is off searching for his lady fare, two detectives arrive on the scene of the boat "accident": Detective Rita Veder (Bassett) and her partner Detective Justice (Allen Payne). Rita has only been back on the force a few months, having taken time off after her mother, a psychic who went crazy, died in the asylum she'd called home. Justices, though, has her back and, also, has feelings for her that, deep down, Rita shares. That all gets complicated, though, when Maximilian finds her and realizes she's the one he's been searching for. Now Rita finds herself pulled in two directions, the life of a good cop with her partner Justice, or the dark life called to her within her blood, that of the vampire. She'll have to choose her path to either save her soul and become the thing, deep down she hates and fears (even if it feels so good).
The performances from Murphy and Bassett are so good here. Craven noted that despite his own desire to make a funnier vampire film, Murphy wanted to play it straight in an attempt to transition into being a serious actor. While this film might be split between trying to be funny or scary (legitimately it's neither), Murphy brings his all to the role of Maximilian and it works. In the right film, with the right context, I think we could have had a vampire character that could have stood along side the best of Dracula and Blacula.
Bassett, meanwhile, was clearly on the same page as Murphy. She plays the hard-boiled cop afraid of her own nature really well, and even though the script rushes many of her character beats, she commits hard. She's able to sell the many sides of the detective, making you believe that she both wants to be a vampire and hates the change quickly happening to her. Again, in the right film this would have been a real star-making turn (Waiting to Exhale, released a few months later, gave her the real success she needed).
It's the script, though, that really betrays the film. For starters it really needed to decide if it was going to be a horror film, in the vein of Blacula (from which it borrows more than a few conceptual ideas) or a more standard Black-skewing comedy from the mid-1990s. The film tries to have it both ways, succeeding at neither, and that takes a lot of the fun out of the film. There are moments where the film feels like its finding the right groove, wrapping the ambiance around itself, and it almost becomes a good horror movie... but it never quite manages the feat.
Honestly, the film needed to lose about 20 minutes of its runtime to help things out. It might not have fixed all the tonal issues, but the film feels like a slog to get through by the time you get to its third act. Cutting 20 minutes off it's runtime would have helped -- you could have excised all the parts with Detective Justice, and much of the obnoxious ghouls scenes, and that would account for most of that blah material -- although that would lead to a film barely long enough to show in theaters. But then, perhaps more time could have been spent on Rita and Max, building their relationship, letting her experience the real gifts of the vampire, so that whenever she finally made her choice it wouldn't have felt rushed. The movie really needed to massaging before it was released.
I can see promise in this film, more so now than in previous viewings, but it is still very flawed. Murphy and Bassett do all they can to carry the film, and they make it as watchable as possible. End of the day, though, this was a confused film that audiences couldn't flock to and I don't blame them. It feels like a working draft of a film that needed a bunch of re-shoots to correct its flaws. It didn't get it, and Vampire in Brooklyn limped through its initial release before leaving theaters an outright bomb. It has found its fans in the years since release, and those will talk up its great qualities. Sure, I buy that. But that doesn't make it a classic, and its hard to recommend the film to anyone not already primed to like B-movie vampire films. It's amusing, it's interesting, it almost works. But almost isn't quite good enough.