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Welcome to 'Fright Night'... Again

David Tennant gets fired up in Fright Night, now playing at the AMC Metreon and the Presidio 4.

The casting of Fright Night, Craig Gillespie’s mostly faithful 3-D take on the 1985 cult favorite starring Chris Sarandon and the late Roddy McDowall, is so spot-on that it’s almost enough to justify the movie’s existence. Yet once again we find ourselves frustrated by the shortcomings of second-hand goods, in the too-familiar form of a remake that never needed to be made.
 
That detracts little from Colin Farrell’s delightfully roguish turn as the ghoul next door, whose dashing good looks and slick charm (however transparent) are enough to lure busty go-go dancers into his sparsely furnished bachelor pad. That they never depart is the first tip-off that some things are rotten in Vegas, and one happens to be Farrell's 400-year-old vampire, impeccably preserved and snacking at will.
 
He is not, however, above suspicion. Lurking in the surprisingly sleepy Sin City suburbs is every bloodsucker’s worst nightmare: a comic-book nerd (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) incapable of distinguishing reality from fantasy. He views every unexplained school absence as proof of foul play and patrols his neighborhood armed with wooden stakes and holy water.
 
Funny thing is, Ed, the bespectacled geek with the overactive imagination, is right. There really are vamps in his ’hood, and nobody else – certainly not Charley (Anton Yelchin), his onetime BFF who has taken to hanging with the cool crowd – can see it.

Only after Ed disappears, falling victim to his own hyper-awareness, does Charlie begin to investigate in earnest. 

From there, the movie follows the trail blazed a quarter-century ago by the original Fright Night, which is not exactly a classic but retains a certain nostalgic charm. One timely tweak: Peter Vincent (David Tennant, of Dr. Who), the supposed vampire expert Charley enlists for guidance, is no longer a late-night spook-tube host but a Criss Angel-style Vegas showman with a weakness for Midori.
 
Gillespie uses 3-D sparingly, and when he does, the extra dimension actually adds to the visual experience: Slain vampires burst into a cloud of smoldering ashes, which seems to explode off the screen and into your lap. It’s one of the movie’s niftier coups, along with the choices of Farrell, who is not given nearly enough scenery to chew, and Mintz-Plasse, who shines once more (after last year’s Kick-Ass) as a bitter misfit.
 
So where does it all go wrong? Despite a few laughs and some diverting visual effects, the movie is as distressingly bland as the cookie-cutter Vegas condos where Charley and his bloodthirsty rival uneasily co-exist.
 
For all its stylistic flourishes and minor alterations, Fright Night feels stale; there’s a sameness to the proceedings that neither Gillespie nor screenwriter Marti Noxon (TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer) manages to overcome. Troubling too is the movie’s tonal inconsistency; the film works better as black comedy than as horror, but the filmmakers seem hesitant to commit one way or the other.