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Warner Bros.
Official Site
Director: Michael Rymer
Producer: Jorge Saralegui
Written by: Scott Abbott & Michael Petroni
Cast: Stuart Townsend, Marguerite Moreau, Aaliyah, Vincent Perez, Paul McGann, Lena Olin

Rating: out of 5

In QUEEN OF THE DAMNED, Aaliyah makes her first appearance as Akasha, mother of all vampires, in a quite memorable scene. After walking into a bar filled with vampire patrons, she does an enticing belly dance, and then rips out the heart of another vampire, takes a bite out of it, and promptly kills everyone in the room with a few simple waves of her hand. Itís an instant of startling clarity, and for a moment, QUEEN OF THE DAMNED is infused with the rhythm of revelation. But when the scene ends, so ends that hum of excitement, and the film settles back into its uninspired pattern of Style! Style! Style!

Director Michael Rymerís adaptation of the third novel in Anne Riceís The Vampire Chronicles series is so crass, so boorish in its attempts at Grand Guignol melodrama, that were it more ironic it could have been a wicked send-up of vampire flicks. As it stands, though, QUEEN OF THE DAMNED is miles away from Neil Jordanís INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. Where that one coasted on its strength of narrative and subtext, QUEEN has the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Itís not so much a vampire movie as it is the fusion of MTV and more than a few elements of Goth-trash culture.

QUEEN OF THE DAMNED continues the story of the vampire Lestat de Lioncourt (played by Tom Cruise in INTERVIEW, here played by Townsend). Having spent 200 years in virtual anonymity (itís vampire code to hide their existence from mortals, except, of course, the ones they kill), Lestat has grown tired of not being able to live his life in the open. So disenchanted is he with hiding in the shadows, in fact, that he opts for that most visible of celebrity roles: rock star. The life of a rock star, he finds, fulfills much of what he was missing, plus, adoring female fans make for easy prey: After a concert, Lestatís assistant always brings back two pretty young things under the pretense of a night of fun with Lestat, only for Lestat to woo them and then kill them. Such is the life of a vampire.

A life which interests Jesse Reeves (Moreau), an apprentice in the Center for Paranormal Studies in London, otherwise known as Talamasca. Under the tutelage of David Talbot (McGann), Jesse forges a morbid curiosity in the history of the vampire Lestat, egged on after reading his journal, which David has in his possession. The journal serves as a platform for flashbacks that give us more information about Lestatís origin and his relationship with Marius (Perez), a particular vampire in whom David has special interest. Marius was the vampire who created Lestat, a former nobleman. We find that after turning Lestat into a vampire, Marius acted as a kind of father figure, but abandoned Lestat after the young vampireís antics led to the awakening of Akasha, the Queen of the Damned. Fast-forward to the present day, and Marius has returned after seeing that Lestat has brought the existence of vampires to public knowledge. Other vampires arenít too happy with Lestat for this reason, and vow to kill him. To make things worse for the vampiric utopia, Akasha, who has a taste for blood both mortal and vampire, has suddenly shown up with her own agenda involving Lestat.

The biggest problem with QUEEN OF THE DAMNED is its need to expedite everything to the point of frenzy. Because of this, there is no central focus, just a clutter of images and the general feeling of being rushed along to a climax that, in the end, feels strangely mute.

The one true strong point is in the performance of Aaliyah as Akasha. When she is on screen, the movie comes alive for a while, pulsing with a beat that is absent amid the hollow flash of the rest of the film. Itís a performance filled with so much electricity, so much decadent fun, that the fact that sheíll never make another movie, never sing another song, rings with a fresh sadness six months after her death. It makes you wish she could make more films, and that her legacy included one better than this.

óCole Sowell

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

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Wait for video rental.

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