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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Vampire' Sinks Fangs Into Big-City Nastiness

June 02, 1989|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

"Vampire's Kiss" (the Mann Plaza, Westwood, and Hollywood Pacific) is the kind of film that would self-destruct with a single false move. But in bringing Joseph Minion's mine-strewn script to the screen, British director Robert Bierman, in his theatrical feature debut, and his protean star Nicolas Cage never falter.

The result is a sleek, outrageous dark comedy that's all the funnier for constantly teetering on the brink of sheer tastelessness and silliness.

Cage is the Manhattan yuppie at his most obnoxious, a hotshot literary agent who browbeats his secretary (Maria Conchita Alonso), demanding that she concentrate on the pointless but herculean task of locating a 10-year-old missing contract. At the same time this jerk is so perplexed as to why his relationships with women are so shallow that he regularly sees a psychiatrist (cool, soignee Elizabeth Ashley), but he's a lousy, uncooperative patient. He's ripe for--and richly deserving of--falling victim to a sexy vampire (Jennifer Beals, perfectly cast).

As in his screenplay for Martin Scorcese's "After Hours," Minion has spun a contemporary morality play enclosed in humor and in which, in this instance, vampirism becomes a nifty metaphor for the rapaciousness of modern society. Thankfully, Bierman and Minion don't spell it out this baldly; indeed, "Vampire's Kiss" can be taken simply as a lively, imaginative fantasy.

From his first moment on the screen--it was in "Rumble Fish," in which he was gang leader Matt Dillon's treacherous lieutenant--Nicolas Cage has been full of captivating surprises. Never before has so much been demanded of him. He must seem at once hatefully obnoxious yet pathetic in his progressive deterioration. Above all, he must always seem funny. Were he not, the film would be just too repellently venomous to contemplate.

But Cage carries everything with a manic intensity that plays with throwaway ease but must have required the utmost energy and concentration--not to mention spontaneity.

Alonso has a no less tricky assignment, as this most expressive of actresses succeeds in finding the humor in the mortification of the secretary. That this woman is a Latina who dares not quit her job makes it all the riskier to make her the object of such continual abuse. That the film makers get away with it is actually liberating; shrewdly, they've realized that if they proceeded timidly it would not have worked any more than soft-pedaling Cage's callous treatment of a beautiful young black woman (well-played by Kasi Lemmons) would have worked.

"Vampire's Kiss" (rated R for language, some sex) is not putting the bite on these women but on Cage's agent, whose absurd power-tripping nastiness characterizes so much of everyday life in the big city.

'VAMPIRE'S KISS'

A Hemdale presentation. Producers Barbara Zitwer, Barry Shils (cq). Director Robert Bierman. Screenplay Joseph Minion. Camera Stefan Czapsky. Music Colin Towns. Production designer Christopher Nowak. Costumes Irene Albright. Stunt coordinator Peter Hock. Film editor Angus Newton. With Nicolas Cage, Maria Cochita Alonso, Jennifer Beals, Elizabeth Ashley, Kasi Lemmons, Bob Lujan, Sol Echeverria.

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.

MPAA-rated: R (under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).

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