Queen of the Damned

They’ve gotten it all wrong. A vampire movie is supposed to be either great, or so ludicrously terrible you spend half an hour out in the parking lot laughing at it with friends; either way, it’s supposed to be fun. Those responsible for Queen of the Damned, which throws together two of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles books (The Vampire Lestat and The Queen of the Damned), seem to have forgotten that. Certainly the movie isn’t good, but since it was headed for mediocrity the minute Warner Bros. greenlighted the script (by Scott Abbott and Michael Petroni), couldn’t they have tossed in some flamboyantly stupid moments? Just for me?

The movie takes itself with the grim seriousness of a bad rock video; it’s too dull and grinding to be any fun to laugh at. A pall hangs over the proceedings anyway, since this is the well-publicized last appearance of the singer Aaliyah, who died last year in a plane crash. Aaliyah plays the titular vamp, Queen Akasha, who used to reign over the vampire race and now wants to spend eternity with the rakish bloodsucker Lestat (Stuart Townsend) at her side.

How is Aaliyah? Her line readings are hard to judge (she’s been dubbed and sub-woofed a lot), but she seems to be having a good time hissing, slinking about, and making disobedient vampires go poof in balls of flame and dust. Whatever life there is to the movie is what she brings to it; she had star presence, and her eagerness to play a glamorous villain in a big-budget horror movie gives her scenes a lift the film sorely needs.

Put Aaliyah next to Stuart Townsend and he looks twice as bad as he does otherwise. Townsend’s Lestat is supposed to be a rock star — a goth-grunge-metal icon, with music and singing voice helpfully provided by Jonathan Davis of the band Korn — but Townsend comes off more like the kind of high-school kid who gets beat up a lot. Queen of the Damned veers closest to the hilarious when it’s trying to sell us this guy as some sort of dark undead Svengali. Unfortunately, Lestat is who we’re stuck with for most of the movie, occasionally trailed by a vampire-huntress with obscure motives (Marguerite Moreau, in an awful performance) and by Marius (Vincent Perez), the vampire who “made” Lestat centuries ago.

Lestat issues an open challenge to his vampire brothers and sisters to come and get him, an apparently suicidal agenda (he’s tired of spending eternity alone) that results in a bunch of them attacking him onstage at a big concert. The hardcore, eyebrow-pierced audience is horrified when Lestat flits around slaying his own kind in self-defense; if director Michael Rymer (another rock-video veteran) had any wit, he’d have had the audience go nuts, thinking it was all part of the show. The movie doesn’t tell us whether the crowd demands its money back after Lestat is whisked away by Akasha; after all, he barely gets through one song.

Queen of the Damned obviously isn’t for Anne Rice devotees; it gives us blink-and-you-miss-them appearances by the vampires Armand and Pandora (who each later got their own books), without explaining who they are — they’re just vampire furniture. The humans, in turn, are human furniture — I was dismayed to see Paul McGann, forever cool in my book for being the “I” in the British classic Withnail & I, reduced to a Basil Exposition role as a studious type who gives the vampire-huntress much-needed tips (hell, just throw some tweed on him and call him Giles). It’s not much for vampire fans, either (they’re all waiting for Blade II), and it’s not really for Aaliyah fans (she doesn’t turn up until about the halfway mark).

Who’s it for, then? Whoever happens to wander into the theater with nothing better to do with the afternoon? It was rumored (falsely, claimed the studio) that Queen of the Damned had been consigned to a direct-to-video fate, and that only Aaliyah’s death helped avert that fate. Whatever the truth, this is the kind of disposable, watch-it-while-doing-household-chores film that was made for video.

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