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Wednesday, June 26, 2002

The leanest, meanest, coolest new action hero by half

Blade II

Rating: * * *
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Running time: 118 minutes
Language: English
Now showing

Industry watchers have been moaning about the aging corps of action heroes: Schwarzenegger, Stallone, even Jackie Chan; they've all reached the age when we'd rather not see them suspended from a wire 50 meters above the ground and blasting away with a customized AK-47.

News photo
Wesley Snipes in Guillermo Del Toro's "Blade II"

The time is ripe. We need fresh blood to redefine action cool. We need exceptionally pumped biceps offset by mean tattoos. We need someone who can look really, really good in black leather. Someone who never pants, never whines, never makes a mistake.

We need . . . Wesley Snipes. And if you can get past the sight of him driving a samurai sword upward from the gut and through the mouth of an adversary, or crashing his heavy boots down on the heads of enemies with a resounding crunch in "Blade II," why, he's perfect.

Snipes played the original, kick-ass, netherworld, black vampire hero in the 1998 "Blade" (based on the Marvel Comic series). His character, Eric Brooks, aka Blade, was half-human, half-vampire, the result of a vampire attack on his pregnant mother. Because he was only half, Blade had all the powers but none of the weaknesses of the Undead. Vowing to kill every last bloodsucker that lurked in the Los Angeles sewers, Blade teamed up with the grizzly Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), whose own family had been wiped out in a freak vampire attack. The two formed a father-son relationship, and Whistler supplied Blade with the nifty combat weaponry: a viciously long sword, a machinegun with silver bullets and another gun that squirts garlic juice. Blade never flinched as he offed vampires by the dozens, making sure their deaths were as tortuous for them as they were painful for us to witness.

"Blade II" maintains about the same level of violence, but, like a good sequel, it has more depth than the original. It actually makes you think. Maybe not very deep thoughts but, hey, that's still saying an awful lot for two solid hours of nonstop carnage. The action is more tense and thoughtful, relying less on weapons and more on tai chi-like maneuvers choreographed by Hong Kong martial arts expert Donnie Yen. Under the direction of Guillermo Del Toro ("Mimic"), "Blade II" vampires display character complexities and even pathos that somehow synchronize with the blood and organs-oozing orgy. Definitely not for those of you with heart problems or who take issue with excessive mayhem. The rest of the populace will be advised to buy extra popcorn for gleeful consumption. Get ready to chomp to the rhythm of the evil, rap/rock/techno soundtrack and vampires feastings on neck flesh.

What there is of the story goes like this: There's a new breed of supervampires born from a vampire virus. Once a bloodsucker is affected, their hair falls out, their skin cracks into road-map veins and their mouth opens to reveal a cavern of fangs and glistening muscle. These supervampires are tormented by a relentless appetite and like to suck on humans and standard vampires alike. So vampire overlord Damaskinos (Thomas Kretschmann) comes to Blade to propose an alliance. Together, they will destroy the supers. Blade agrees, but he's plenty careful not to trust Damaskinos. After all, the "bloodpack" -- an elite killer unit assigned to fight with Blade -- had first been trained to down him. But Blade sees that there is no other option. Along with Whistler and computer geek Scud (Norman Reedus), Blade goes underground to locate and destroy the new breed's kingpin, Nomak (Luke Goss).

Del Toro's greatest contribution to the picture is the visuals. To match the setting (Prague instead of L.A.), he creates a highly stylized, Gothic netherworld that combines Old World Euro ambience with gleaming modern technology. Almost all of the film is dark and murky, with intermittent flashes of metal, glass and chrome. The best fight scenes, for example, take place inside a medieval dungeon fitted with fiberglass floors lit from beneath by white-hot fluorescent bulbs. And check out the ultra-cool costumes -- Blade's tight black leather ensembles matched with a flowing black trench coat and Nomak's natural cotton, faux peasant outfits and wool mufflers. Seeing them in combat is like witnessing a blood bath atop a fashion runway: Prada vs. Yohji Yamamoto Plus Homme.

The question remains however: Do you want to see a "Blade III"? Naturally, the story's ending hints at one with the subtlety of an 18-wheeler, but in all honesty, I hope they wait a good many years before this undertaking. You can only watch so much carnivorous action in one year before the stress depletes your hemoglobin supply. Maybe it's better to forgo the popcorn and go with iron supplements.

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