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Dark Shadows (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 116 minutes.

OK for children.

One of the all-time great performances was that of Robert Preston in The Music Man (1957, play; 1962, movie). While Preston's acting and singing were Tony award quality, what made it iconic was the way he used his hands. It was so brilliant that his hands were almost a character by themselves.

So it is with Johnny Depp as the vampire Barnabas Collins in this movie rendition of the cult '60s daytime soaper Dark Shadows. While Depp gives one of his typical over-the-top performances (which is not surprising since he's being directed by his longtime compadre, Tim Burton), it's the choreography of his hands that sets this performance a little above his prior outings.

He is ably supported by the venerable trooper Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays Elizabeth Collins, Eva Green as Angelica Bouchard, Helena Bonham Carter as Dr. Julia Hoffman, Jackie Earle Haley as Willie Loomis, Bella Heathcote as the ephemeral Victoria Winters/Josette DuPres, ChloŽ Grace Moretz as Carolyn Stoddard, and Jonny Lee Miller as Roger Collins with an appropriate special appearance by the rocker Alice Cooper. All are up to the task of complementing Depp.

Green has come a long way since her softcore porn performance in The Dreamers (2003) which featured her full frontal nudity for director Bernardo Bertolucci. While that may have stalled her career a little, she broke away from it with an award quality performance as Vesper Lynd, a Bond girl in Casino Royale (2006). Her performance here as the hateful evil witch Angelica should leave her performance in The Dreamers as a forgotten mistake.

In 1762 Barnabas has a fling with Angelica, but foresakes her for the ethereal Josette. This was probably a mistake because Angelica is, after all, a witch (something Barnabas did not know until it was too late). The result is that Angelica curses everybody, Josette jumps off a cliff, and Barnabas is turned into a vampire, and then promptly buried alive by Angelica. 192 years later he gets out of the tomb, rejoins the Collins family and meets up with Angelica and Josette again, with violent and comedic results.

This isn't like the soap opera, which was pretty dark. It is entirely comedic. Unfortunately, there are not any belly laughs in this. If this is light comedy it is far too light because except for Depp's performance, it just isn't that funny. Unless you're a member of the Dark Shadows cult the main reason for seeing the movie is to see Depp's appealing performance.

Like most modern movies this is at least 25 minutes too long, but I didn't look at my watch as many times as I have in other movies I've seen recently.

May 9, 2012