Picks and Pans Review: Interview with the Vampire

updated 11/21/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/21/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, Stephen Rea, Antonio Banderas, Christian Slater

Because virtually every scene takes place at night in dimly lit, opulently furnished chambers from centuries past—and let's not overlook those seductive Parisian crypts, done in a style that one might guess to be late Empire—this adaptation of Anne Rice's famous vampire novel, directed by Neil Jordan, has intense claustrophobic power. And the scenes of bloodletting, as Cruise and comrade-in-damnation Pitt drain their female victims to alabaster perfection, have a stunning, painterly beauty. There is also a homoerotic subcurrent, since Cruise's chief pleasure is evidently in witnessing Pitt's. As he showed in 1992's The Crying Game and his other films, director Jordan knows a thing or two—possibly more—about how to film forbidden impulses with a ravishing flourish.

But come on: What is Tom Cruise doing here with that mossy blond hair, those foppish lace cuffs and—the better to urge on the reluctant Pitt—a maddening, oh-my-dear-chap-please-we-are-vampires-so-do-get-with-the-ticket laugh? Cruise, whose chief strength as an actor is virile pep, can no more pull off this sort of sneaky, slightly mildewed camp than Jeremy Irons can play Vegas. Whenever Cruise enters a room, the movie feels like Brideshead of the Damned.

The other performances are better, but I don't think one of them vaults past the great dramatic hurdle confronting vampires, which is that one is so often expected to pity them. Isn't that silly? Even Dunst, whose initial scenes as a child vampire are both touching and creepily funny, eventually degenerates into Little Orphan Annie, cursed to an eternity of moppetdom. Rea, at least, is luckier: Comically fey even by vampiric standards, he gets to dance, bat-style, upside-down, and stars in his own little theater company. Rea has the long face and velveteen charm of an Oscar Wilde, only with some still rarer, stranger blood coursing through his veins. (R)

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