May 10, 2012

‘Dark Shadows’ a mere shadow | 2 stars

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp bringing the Gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows” to the big screen? It sounds like a “Saturday Night Live” sketch.

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp bringing the Gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows” to the big screen? It sounds like a “Saturday Night Live” sketch.

But with Hollywood scraping the bottom of the remake barrel, Burton directing on autopilot and Depp game for anything that involves greasepaint and vintage attire, the vampire Barnabas Collins, so memorably played by Jonathan Frid in the original TV series, has risen, shakily, again.

It’s 1972 — the year after Dan Curtis’ five-year series went off the air — and Barnabas has returned to his Maine home, Collinwood Manor, where matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) presides over a decaying estate and dwindling fortune. The Collins clan is now a dysfunctional family in a haunted New England mansion (as in “Beetlejuice”) with a stock sullen teenager (Chloë Grace Moretz).

As in the series, Barnabas sees an uncanny resemblance to his long-dead love in the Collins’ governess, Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote). But you’ll forget about her — as does the movie — while Barnabas succumbs to the temptations of the Collins’ psychiatrist-in-residence, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), and the witch who cursed him 200 years ago, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green, under an unbecoming platinum wig).

There’s more interest in fidelity to the original cast’s hair color than to the character of Barnabas Collins, who is neither the guilt-ridden loner of the TV series nor the bloodsucking savage of Curtis’ 1970 feature film “House of Dark Shadows.” (It’s hard to take this movie to task for fidelity when Curtis didn’t seem to care.)

Here he is whatever the scene requires, in a movie that heads in so many directions it’s a wonder Depp didn’t get whiplash. What begins (and ends) as a straight-faced Gothic romance morphs into a fish-out-of-water comedy (Lava lamps! Troll dolls!), climaxing with a CGI-fueled confrontation between the blondes in the Collinwood foyer that revives unwelcome memories of Robert Zemeckis’ “Death Becomes Her.”

Pfeiffer seems to be having almost as much fun as she did as Catwoman in Burton’s “Batman Returns,” and fans will appreciate the cameos and quotations, the smoking at the dinner table and the visit to the show’s Blue Whale Tavern, where Barnabas puts the whammy on a recalcitrant sea captain played by Christopher Lee.

Because this Barnabas is a creation of 2012 Hollywood, he must save the family cannery, try to make Elizabeth’s brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) a better father and throw a “happening” headlined by Alice Cooper that brings life into the gloomy Collins household.

A running gag in which Barnabas can’t pick up anything with his long fingernails amuses, until it reminds you of “Edward Scissorhands” — and has you wondering why Burton and Depp seem content to repeat themselves, degenerating into self-parody.

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