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The perils of necking

Crocodile
  MORE REVIEWS

You be the critic! Recommend a movie on our message board

Vampire thriller 'Wisdom of Crocodiles' stylish but anemic

July 21, 2000
Web posted at: 4:32 p.m. EDT (2032 GMT)

(CNN) -- Po-Chih Leong's "The Wisdom of Crocodiles" is one of those elegant vampire films that looks like a perfume commercial and features an absurdly attractive actor in the bite-happy role. There's no room for paunchy, Lugosi-like blood-suckers in this type of movie.

Vampire lore is permeated with creeping sexuality, and modern audiences like nothing better than the promise of sex. So why not cast Jude Law (Oscar nominated in 1999 for "The Talented Mr. Ripley") as a metaphysically challenged poster boy for the blood-thirsty?

Far from being just another pale, trembling poser, Law is an extremely talented actor. He adds a welcome shot of magnetism to a gorgeous movie that never generates much emotion.

No Count, castles

Law's character, a medical researcher named Steven Grlscz (the surname is Bulgarian), is a troubled young man who occasionally needs to seduce lonely women, then suck the blood from their necks.

Couple

However, outside of the all-important necking, accepted Dracula procedures seldom come into play here. There's not a bat to be seen, and Steven continually strolls around in broad daylight. He contends that there are "legitimate" chemical reasons for his unfortunate condition. His corpuscles lack a compound that can only be found in the veins of people who are in the throes of passion. Steven has to make his victims fall in love with him before he can chow down, because legitimate ardor generates life-giving crystallizing agents in human blood ... or something screwy like that.

It doesn't matter if you don't buy the convoluted explanation. Leong is mostly interested in a faltering romance between Steven and Anna (Elina Loewensohn), an asthmatic construction engineer who doesn't have much personality but looks great when filmed with the right lens.

Loewensohn, who also appeared in an over-photographed 1994 vampire feature called "Nadja," isn't a particularly interesting performer. But you can gawk at her exotic looks during the dry spells.

Most of the real vampire action comes in the first act, when Steven's predicament is being established in non-specific terms.

Is it love, or blood lust?

He meets a suicidal woman (played by Kerry Fox) in a subway station, then seduces her with his well-dressed charms. The scene when he finally goes for her throat is so stylized it's almost clinical. Steven's pure white bedroom immediately announces that blood will spatter against a wall; sure enough, it does.

But Leong choreographs the attack in disturbing ways. The death is especially sickening because you're somehow exhilarated by the cold beauty of it all.

That's about it for nastiness. Everything else plays like a slow-moving French romance. For a while, it's interesting to ponder whether Steven is actually in love with Anna or if he's just buttering her up in preparation for the Big Bite.

But it's not all that interesting. You find yourself hoping for an unwitting human hors d'oeuvre to appear so that Steven can do something icky. No such luck, unless you count a nutty scene in which he easily pulverizes a bunch of gang members who seem like well-heeled reworkings of the soulless marauders in "A Clockwork Orange" (1971).

Most of the film is composed of measured dialogue between the two lovers, with an occasional burst of bizarre ability on Steven's part. For instance, he can write a paragraph with one hand while simultaneously sketching Anna with the other. It's a neat little trick, though it's not likely to put you on the edge of your seat. Producers wouldn't still be making vampire movies if the originals had been this self-consciously chic, although an overwhelming sense of style is far preferable to ghastly, highly calculated cartoons like "Blade" and "John Carpenter's Vampires" (both 1998).

Steven also periodically debates a friendly, rather dumpy police detective (Timothy Spall) who's investigating Fox's murder. Though Spall and Law have fun with their incongruent physical appearances, their scenes together are just another sidetrack that sort of lays there instead of adding steam to the moody proceedings.

Law's growing legion of fans might want to see "The Wisdom of Crocodiles" for a quick fix. It's certainly not embarrassing. But he's a tremendous actor who's certainly headed for much bigger, and much more lively, things in the future.

"The Wisdom of Crocodiles" contains profanity, nudity, violence, and sex. Not that that's a surprise. Rated R. 99 minutes.



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