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Movie Review : 'Once Bitten': Vampire Puts On Vamp

November 15, 1985|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

As the credits for the hilarious "Once Bitten" (citywide) unroll, a jodhpured-and-silk-shirted Cleavon Little sashays around a lush white-on-white interior to a tango beat, eventually placing a black rose on a breakfast--er, dinner--tray. But once the credits are over, it's not a bed he approaches with the tray but a white casket, upon which he knocks, waking his employer, Lauren Hutton, to face another night.

Hutton doubtlessly is the most beautiful vampire in the world, living in hilltop luxury above Los Angeles, with various attendants who have served her for decades, even centuries. She has just one little problem: It's getting harder and harder to find male virgins, whose blood is essential to preserving her eternal youth, and she must partake three times before fast-approaching Halloween or lose her looks. Ah, for the good old days when all she had to do was "go out in the field and pick up a couple of shepherds."

However, it just so happens that, way out in an unidentified suburb, there's an 18-year-old high school student (Jim Carrey) with a girlfriend (Karen Kopins) not yet prepared to go "all the way."

What fun director Howard Storm, in a deft move from TV, and his writers (six) have when Hutton and Carrey's paths inevitably cross. "Once Bitten" is that extreme rarity, a youth movie that's made the grown-up discovery of how sexy and amusing a situation can be if you leave things to the imagination. Some of Hutton's lines bring back fond memories of the zingers Mae West thought up for herself. Zeroing in on Carrey, Hutton remarks: "I haven't had anything this pure since the Vienna Boys' Choir hit town."

At first "Once Bitten" seems subversive, intentionally or otherwise, as you find yourself wishing that Hutton gets to put the bite--never mind where--on Carrey often enough to turn him into a vampire, thereby rescuing him from seemingly dull suburbia. But it becomes clear soon enough that "Once Bitten" is but an elaborate ploy to motivate and justify Carrey's loss of virginity, and it's a maneuver so sly you have to smile upon recognizing it.

Hutton has appeared in more prestigious pictures, but none so liberating as this unpretentious comedy, which allows her to slink and vamp with much good humor. In his first major screen role Carrey proves to be an important discovery, who also seems to know how not to take himself too seriously. And Kopins is another revelation, so deceptive is the primness of her first scenes. Thomas Ballatore and Skip Lackey are Carrey's pals, as funny as Little is in support of Hutton.

That PG-13 probably ought to be heeded by parents, considering the innuendo, but many teens and adults, "once bitten," are likely to find this bubbly diversion hard to resist.

'ONCE BITTEN'

A Samuel Goldwyn presentation. Executive producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr. Producers Dimitri Villard, Robby Wald, Frank E. Hildebrand. Director Howard Storm. Screenplay David Hines, Jeffrey Hause, Jonathan Roberts; based on a story by Villard. Associate producer Russell Thacher. Camera Adam Greenberg. Music John Du Prez. Production designer Gene Rudolf. Choreographer Joanne DiVito. Costumes Jill Ohanneson. Second-unit director Gene Sultan. Second-unit musical street scene director Marcelo Epstein. Stunt coordinator Jim Winburn. Film editor Marc Grossman. With Lauren Hutton, Jim Carrey, Karen Kopins, Cleavon Little, Thomas Ballatore, Skip Lackey.

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

MPAA-rated: PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate for children under 13).

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