Film Review: ‘Vampire Academy’

Dennis Harvey

Richelle Mead’s above-average series of young-adult fantasy novels gets a worse-than-perfunctory screen launch with “Vampire Academy,” which not only plays like the crassest possible mashup of “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” elements, but seems designed to make those franchises look like eternal monuments of world culture by comparison. This desperately paced teenage soap opera with fangs is unlikely to spawn the follow-up its fadeout teases, given its wan $3.9 opening weekend. But ancillary sales should help it to eventually recoup.

Wanting to live like ordinary people, Rose (Zoey Deutch) and Lissa (Lucy Fry) have managed a year in the outside world before they’re dragged back to secluded St. Vladimir’s Academy, a very Hogwartsian institution (albeit only for high-school hotties) in rural Montana. There, those of the Moroi (nice vampires with magical powers) and Dhampir (their athletic half-human protectors) races are at least theoretically protected from the predatory Strigoi (superstrong bad vampires who have traditional allergies to daylight, churches, stakes in the heart, etc.). Lissa’s absence wasn’t about to be tolerated, as she’s a Moroi princess who might succeed Queen Tatiana (Joely Richardson) on the throne.

Instructors and students alike basically fall into three categories: bitchy but hot (headmistress Olga Kurylenko, mean girl Sami Gayle), nerdy but kinda hot (sidekicks Sarah Hyland and Cameron Monaghan), and just hot (Danila Kozlovsky as a Robert Pattinson-esque brooding bad boy, Danila Kozlovsky as Dhampir Rose’s hunky fight trainer). Our two heroines try to decide which cute boy they like best a la “Twilight,” while dissing rivals and dealing with ominous signs of conspiracy afoot a la “Potter.” It’s like any trashy smallscreen teen hookup meller, albeit without the texting (unless the telepathy between Rose and Lissa counts), and with a pace so accelerated it’s a surprise the characters don’t speak in Minnie Mouse-style helium voices.

Hectic doesn’t mean exciting, though — or atmospheric, funny, scary or much of anything else. Dialogue consisting almost entirely of strained so-five-minutes-ago youth slang and expository mumbo-jumbo is delivered at a machine-gun rate that suggests helmer Mark Waters (“Mean Girls”) and sibling scenarist Daniel (“Heathers”) thought this was a Preston Sturges movie. (Alas, it’s not even “Mean Girls” or “Heathers.”) Or that they hoped a frantic acting/editing rhythm would cover the numbingly generic quality of the proceedings on every level.

Mead’s six “Vampire Academy” books (there’s also an ongoing spinoff series, “Bloodlines”) are relatively brainy and complex within their young-adult subgenre, but their virtues have been reduced to a derivative hash here. Lissa’s late speech about bullying and slut shaming is one remnant of the original book’s tenor (the plot remains fairly intact), yet its sudden earnestness feels ridiculously out of place here.

Apparently Ellen Page was unavailable; the pic does what it thinks is the next best thing and has lookalike Deutch imitate the “Juno”-era thesp as closely as possible. But all the performers deserve condolences rather than criticism. Perhaps the wisest choice was made by rising Russian star Kozlovsky, who remains so expressionless that he can in all honesty now say that he never acted in anything called “Vampire Academy.” He does, however, appear in it, which is also the kindest way you can describe the contributions of fellow grownup thesps Gabriel Byrne, Richardson and Kurylenko.

Design and tech contributions are pro if nondescript. The notable CGI effect, of two snarling “psi-hounds,” is weak enough to suggest budgetary as well as imaginative limitations at work.

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