Combustible Celluloid
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With: Aaliyah, Stuart Townsend, Marguerite Moreau, Vincent Perez, Lena Olin
Written by: Scott Abbot and Michael Petroni, based on "The Vampire Chronicles" by Anne Rice
Directed by: Michael Rymer
MPAA Rating: R for vampire violence
Running Time: 101
Date: 01/10/2002

Queen of the Damned (2002)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Rice Dish

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

My opinion of Neil Jordan's 1994 Interview with the Vampire is probably higher than the general consensus; I enjoyed its big-budget theatrics and Tom Cruise's performance as the vain and beautiful Vampire Lestat. But rather than compare, I quickly threw it out the window while watching the new Queen of the Damned, which was adapted from the same series of vampire books by Anne Rice.

Simply put, Interview with the Vampire was an "A" movie and Queen of the Damned is a "B" movie, and they both succeed in their respective territories.

Starring as Lestat this time is Stuart Townsend (About Adam and Simon Magus), who ranks quite a bit lower on the list of bankable movie stars than Cruise, and it shows. His Lestat seems like a pouty little boy at times, with nowhere near the charisma Cruise exudes. Still, he pulls it off from sheer force of will, especially during his performances as the singer in a Nine Inch Nails-like goth metal band.

But most fans will want to know about our dearly departed pop star Aaliyah (Romeo Must Die), who plays the title role, a vampire queen named Akasha. Though it's not entirely clear exactly who she is or how old she is or what her powers are, Aaliyah nails the part. The way she moves looks incredible on camera, part serpent, part kitten -- her lips just slightly parted, enjoying her fangs as if they still had a sheen of fresh blood on them. Sure, she has to deliver lines like "join me or die!" but she clearly enjoys chomping on the scenery. To her credit, the great Myrna Loy played a part much like this early in her career, in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), and moved on to greater things. We can only guess that Aaliyah might have done the same.

The plot has poor Lestat, bored off his head after 200 years of immortality. He raises from his coffin, intrigued after hearing a bit of loud goth metal. He develops the plan to reveal himself as a vampire to the world through performing with this rock band, hoping that his fellow vamps will destroy him during a big sold-out, one-shot concert in Death Valley. "Better dead than alone," he reasons.

Meanwhile, we flash back and learn about Lestat's maker, a much older vampire named Marius (Vincent Perez). Marius is the keeper of Akasha's body turned to stone, but after Lestat discovers her power, Marius disappears, taking Akasha with him. You can bet that these two will turn up again at some point.

Back in the present, Jesse Reeves (Marguerite Moreau, who looks like a young Karen Allen), a member of a secret society of paranormal observers, has discovered Lestat's hangout. She becomes obsessed with finding him, and eventually, with being "turned" by him. Lena Olin co-stars as Jesse's aunt, though what she's doing here isn't fully developed.

Through all this, director Michael Rymer (In Too Deep) and screenwriters Scott Abbot and Michael Petroni keep things pulsing, though the film suffers from a slow start and some half-baked plot and character turns. But Rymer has fun with some expressionistic and experimental-film moments here and there, specifically in Lestat's music video and his fantasy reveries.

The sets truly dazzle, from huge chambers with checkered floors to Akasha's chamber with its floor of black water and huge fiery torches adorning the walls. One nice moment has Lestat waking up in the morning -- discovering that he can walk in sunlight -- savoring the wind through the trees before looking down and noticing a swimming pool full of corpses (the camera does a slow tilt downward to reveal them gradually).

Queen of the Damned understands that we just want to have a good time without worrying too much about the Meaning of Life. We want to hang out with these vampires, with their suave manner, cool outfits, and power to drain the life out of anyone who gets in their way. The picture keeps the action and gore moving at a nice clip, invents a few interesting and funny new moments (one beheading is particularly amazing), and keeps it all real sexy.

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