Johnny Depp goes to ‘camp’ and finds a role he can really sink his teeth into in “Dark Shadows.” He’s easily the best part about the big screen adaptation of the old campy 1970′s soap opera, and he relishes every line with gusto. But it’s a shame so much of the film surrounding him is disappointingly bloodless.
Depp stars as Barnabas Collins, an 18th century vampire now adjusting to life in 1972. When he’s unexpectedly freed from the coffin that has held him for 200 years, Depp returns to the old family estate to find it nearly in ruins, with a precious few family members left, headed up by Michelle Pfeiffer. So he settles in and resolves to restore the family name to its former glory.
The film gets a lot of mileage out of fish-out-of-water jokes involving Depp interacting with 1970′s culture, and adjusting to the changing attitudes of the country. He lusts after a lava lamp, views television as an instrument of black magic, and so on.
In other hands, the jokes could seem run of the mill or tired, but Depp has such great comic timing he breathes new life into them. And his subtle English lilt is spot-on for the material. Tim Burton’s familiar light touch helps immensely, too. He holds great respect for the source material, but never lets things get too serious.
The rest of the cast is a mixed bag. Michelle Pfeiffer is serviceable as the matriarch of the Collins family, while Chloe Grace Moretz does little more than act bored and constantly cock her head in teenage disgust as the rebellious 15-year-old daughter. Burton regular Helena Bonham Carter is the only one who adds any extra spice to the mix as an alcoholic psychologist, who takes an interest in the family’s new undead houseguest.
But the film spends far too much time on a plot involving corporate espionage, and a 200-year-old witch who really knows how to hold a grudge. Eva Green is the witch who turned Depp into a vampire out of jealousy in the first place, and is now trying to run the Collins family out of the fishing business.
She’s witchy enough, and I understand the filmmakers felt the need to have some kind of villain to move things forward, but this leads to a jarring, overblown third act chock full of explosions that seem disconcertingly out of place and imported from some other movie. I would have rather just watched Depp hang out around the house.