Starring Nicolas Cage, Maria Conchita Alonso, and Jennifer Beals
My rating: 1/2 star
Painfully mannered critique of late-1980s yuppiedom, in which Nicolas Cage famously eats a bug, is a trial to watch.
I had to force myself to get through the movie, every painful minute of Vampire’s Kiss. This movie would best appeal to those who appreciate odd films whose the sole appeal is their oddity. I have nothing against odd films—I loved the wonderfully odd Moonrise Kingdom. I just require a film to have merit beyond the strangeness.
Well-to-do, young Manhattan book agent Peter Loew (Nicolas Cage) spends his nights with a succession of one night stands and his days bullying his secretary (Maria Conchita Alonso) and complaining to his therapist (Elizabeth Ashley) about how empty his life is. Shortly after a strange encounter with a bat, he picks up a beautiful, mysterious woman (Jennifer Beals), who enjoys a little bloodsucking during sex. Subsequently, Peter begins showing signs of turning into a vampire. Early on, however, viewers are led to question whether the vampire element is real or is merely Peter’s delusion.
I didn’t care. By the time the viewers get a definitive answer to the question of what is real and what is delusion, I had moved on to counting how many minutes I had left to suffer through.
The film’s main problem is the utter contempt it has for its protagonist. Peter is less a character than a conglomeration of negative character traits. He’s a mercurial, misogynistic, neurotic, materialistic, social-climbing, self-aggrandizing, narcissistic bully. No matter how odious a film’s protagonist is, the film must still give the viewers the sense that the protagonist is someone worth watching for the length of the movie. In this film, however, the filmmakers have created a repository of negative behaviors instead of a character.
Nicolas Cage’s bizarre, overly affected performance doesn’t help the situation. With any Nicolas Cage film, there’s a 50% chance that the brilliant, soulful Nicolas Cage will appear. And there’s a 50% chance that the mannered, manic, and weird Nicolas Cage will show up. From the moment he opens his mouth in Vampire’s Kiss and spews out an affected lisp similar to the one he used in Peggy Sue Got Married, we know, unfortunately, that the latter Nicolas Cage is starring in this one. In fact, here, he’s at his most mannered, most manic, and most bizarre. As the filmmakers have assembled Peter into a collage of negative qualities, Cage creates a hodgepodge of affectations rather than a character.
And he eats a bug.
That’s what the film’s famous for, after all. This is the movie in which Nicolas Cage eats a live cockroach. If that’s what potential viewers find intriguing about the film, they should just fast forward to the 49-minute mark, watch the ten-second scene, turn off the film, and save themselves the pain of the other 103 minutes and 24 seconds.
Maria Conchita Alonso fares somewhat better as the only supporting character who comes off as a person and not merely a functional cog in the screenplay.
The aesthetic of the film tries to cross early German cinema with early MTV, and the resulting combination is less interesting than the look of either one individually. The experimentation with shot composition and camera angles only adds to the viewer’s emotional separation from the film.
As a cultural product of its time, this film can be seen as social criticism, an attempt to portray the meaninglessness and cruel selfishness of yuppie existence and the emptiness of the values of the day. Outside of its cultural moment, the movie has little relevance as social commentary.
I give the movie one half star because it aspires to have merit, to say something. It shows an attempt at artistry, no matter how obnoxious the results. This aspiration lifts it above the level of celluloid excrement to something that’s merely unpleasant.