starring Kristanna Loken, Michelle Rodriguez, Michael Madsen, Ben Kingsley
screenplay by Guinevere Turner
directed by Uwe Boll
by Walter Chaw It seems sort of pointless at this juncture to keep kicking at Uwe Boll--indeed, there's a minor backlash against all the lash, most of it dedicated to defending the Kraut Ed Wood along the lines of his latest, the excrescent BloodRayne, as being only as bad as ordinary bad films and not as bad as getting your eyelid caught on a nail. The secret to this bountiful wealth of backhanded praise, Boll has discovered, is found somewhere in the intersection of gratuitous gore and gratuitous nudity--both virtues forgiving a multitude of the director's other shortcomings (a tin ear, a blind eye, a plugger's grace, and so on), because it transforms his sword-and-sorcery saga into something that looks and sounds just like the crap most of us squandered our misspent youth surfing for on late night cable, tissue in one hand, lotion in the other. Without stretching too extravagantly, it's easy to see in that great sloppy act of pubescent self-abuse the very same method guiding Boll's hand at the camera through his ersatz trilogy of terrible. Fair to wonder a time or two over the course of the film if someone should invoke the Geneva Convention and get the fuck outta dodge. I guess there's a purpose to everything under the sun, and BloodRayne, based on a video game series of the same name, must be around to give hope to anyone with a camera in a country with a tax loophole that they, too, can make really bad movies with which to waste other peoples' lives.
BloodRayne (Kristanna Loken) is a half-vampire (like Blade without the funk) conceived of the union between her Victorian lady of a mother and arch-bloodsucker Ben Kingsley (cast as you would cast Keanu Reeves as a retarded surfer), going incognito here sans "Sir" so as not to sully his Oscar-winning reputation. Michael Madsen is here, too, and Michelle Rodriguez--two names one hesitates to attach to a costume/period drama for the simple fact that they're horrible actors with no discernible range. (Rodriguez, especially, continues to patent her probably-lesbian, angry man-woman shtick, but to what end?) Ms. Rayne wishes to find her pa for a little 'splainin, figuring out somehow from someone that the best way to penetrate daddy dearest's demesne is to obtain a few artifacts in a Conan the Destroyer/Red Sonya/video game fashion. Why none of the evil henchmen think of opening a box said to contain one of the artifacts before bringing Blood before his majesty is a head-scratcher (just like why there's a training montage mid-film after our heroine has been kicking-ass for a full hour), if not as much as the fact of the picture's existence is. What I'm saying is you gotta pick your battles.
The gore is framed eternally center-stage, meaning that no matter what's happening, where it's happening, and at what point it's happening, Boll takes pains to shoot a carefully-structured, well (and differently) lit cutaway of the result. Cause for celebration in some circles, I'm sure, yet the gore is check-a-book-outta-the-library poor, and the leering quality of the cutaways renders them something of a mockery. You don't feel horror at the splatter, but rather a whole lotta disdain. (Check out Tom Savini's early work if you want to see how it's done on a low budget.) Ditto the nudity, most of it in a ridiculous establishing shot with vampire Meat Loaf surrounded by an arbitrarily-topless meat-puppet harem, while the money shot is reserved for Loken flashing half a tit during Brittany Murphy-sex, clinging to the side of someone like a chittering howler monkey as a jail cell door pounds out our pain in 4/4 time. The storytelling is patchy, the fight choreography is high-school drama club, and the dialogue and performances should win awards for consistency if nothing else.
I guess I ought to say that BloodRayne will be interesting to people who appreciate films that have no contact with film-craft--that are made by people who appear to have neither ever seen a film nor, more possibly, ever spared a moment contemplating what makes a film good or bad. There's a freedom about Boll's work that can, under the right circumstances, be seen as invigorating, a middle-finger to every asshole striving to create something of lasting value through hard work, respect for the medium, its history, the genre, and its audience, and the feeling of responsibility that if someone's trusting you with their money and time (producers, actors, and viewers alike), the least you can do is give something back that's more than this product of venal extrusion. Too conventional for dada, now, all Boll can claim is proof positive that you can get a subscription to HEAVY METAL magazine even in Germany.
Bosch and Goya are name-dropped in the first couple of minutes of the BloodRayne DVD's film-length commentary featuring Boll, Loken, producer Shawn Williamson, first AD Bryan C. Knight, and actor Will Sanderson. Here as well, Loken confirms her genius status by declaring that there's something wrong about taking someone's "life force." A lot is made of working on location in Romania, with Boll declaring that much of Van Helsing looked fake, reminding me in the process of another abortion I'd watch again before this one. He declares that an obviously-CGI castle in his film is real when, I suspect, what he means is that it's a digitally-embellished real castle; making a leap on my own here, Boll appears to be suggesting that his masterpiece is vérité compared to pieces of Hollywood bullshit like Van Helsing. I want to say that he's right--but he's not. Lots of laughing and bonhomie suggest that these people actually like one another and think they've made something of depth and with enduring qualities, but the most telling bits of the commentary involve how much of the action, such as it is, was improvised on the spot. While I'm as much for spontanaeity as the next person, you should first be sure that your talent is gifted.
A "CGI Making of the Film" (7 mins.) confirms that Boll's "real" castle is a series of ones and zeroes (but at least it's wordless), while a series of five useless storyboards comprises the disc's "Storyboards" selection. The real horror of the piece is "Dinner with Uwe Boll", which is exactly what it sounds like: 48 minutes of Boll taking the piss out his critics (and doing about as lucid a job as that idiot Wayne Kramer), though he gives no clue that his new William Castle-like bit of stupid self-promotion will be an invitation to his critics to go a few rounds with him in the squared circle. He mentions Dr. Zhivago and Bridge on the River Kwai as films that influenced him and then throws everyone else under the bus in saying that he was hamstrung by bad scripts on his first couple of films. This doesn't excuse the interlacing of actual video game footage with live-action in House of the Dead, naturally, and thus Boll exhibits a rare moment of self-awareness by admitting that he probably wouldn't repeat the stunt in future films. A beautiful, unnamed brunette serves as a third wheel in the dinner party and provides, lamentably, the bulk of the knob-polishing when it comes time to speculate about Boll's critics. You have to be f'in kidding me, incidentally, if you don't think Boll's films deserve all the criticism they get. It's not a matter of piling on, here, Boll is the genuine article: a candidate for the worst film director of all-time.
A trailer for BloodRayne rounds out a presentation that has as its chief draw not the flat 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (which preserves the awful cinematography in sharp relief) nor DD 5.1 audio that's more often than not overwhelmed by the idiot-noise score. No, the chief draw is that the PC-version of "BloodRayne 2" is included in full as a second disc in Visual Entertainment's slipcovered "Unrated Director's Cut". As you can probably buy the game by itself for a few bucks, I'm recommending you spare yourself a brain tumor and do just that. Originally published: July 7, 2006.