** (out of four)
A movie about the undead can still be DOA.
As Barnabas Collins, an 18th century vampire awoken in 1972, Johnny Depp and his zesty delivery can get a laugh out of an unimaginative line like, “My God, a woman doctor; what an age this is.” The actor is taking big bites out of a small, stale dish, though.
Based on the late ’60s/early ’70s TV series Depp loved as a kid, “Dark Shadows” stirs elements that by now require major inspiration to stand out from every other eccentric character existing at an incongruous time (“Encino Man,” “Austin Powers” to name just a few) and countless recent vampires laboring to protect their families and control the need for blood. Collaborating for the eighth time, Depp and director Tim Burton (“Alice in Wonderland,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Edward Scissorhands”) could tackle a dark yet PG-13-rated tale in their sleep. Which, one could assume, occurs upside-down in a castle.
Freed from a coffin two centuries after his ex-lover/witch Angelique (Eva Green) kills the people he loves and turns him into a vampire, Barnabas returns to his family’s Maine estate that retains little of the swagger he provided back when heating 200 rooms wasn’t so pricey. Now, Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) struggles to keep the Collins seafood business alive, while the new, waifish governess (Bella Heathcote) bears a striking resemblance to Barnabas’ late love. That’s good news for Barnabas and a thorn in the side of Angelique, whose twisted affections and jealousy haven’t aged a day.
First-time feature writer Seth Grahame-Smith’s jokes spring from the most basic notions of a vampire transported to the ’70s. Barnabas balks at a Troll doll and fixates on a lava lamp, calling it a “pulsating blood urn.” He wonders if he’s seeing Mephistopheles; it’s actually the McDonald’s arches. Barnabas hangs with hippies and claims 15-year-old Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) should hurry and have a child while her “birthing hips” call for it. You get the idea.
Perhaps if “Dark Shadows” functioned as a beautifully tragic love story or hilariously clever collision between ’70s open-mindedness and monstrous rigidity, the movie would become more than an ordinary, aimless tale of a spurned lover who happens to be a witch. Instead, this revival only gives reason to expect a big-screen “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” in 2042.
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