I'm fed up with sparkling vampires named Edward, so at least Daybreakers is halfway okay right out of the gate with its decidedly non-sparkling featured bloodsucker named Edward.
Ethan Hawke plays Ed Dalton — who is brooding and mopey with world-weary quips like "Life's a bitch, and then you don't die," rolling off his presumably punctured tongue — a bedeviled hematologist/scientist who is reluctantly working for Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), the head of an evil pharmaceutical empire. In this sleek yet gritty high-tech dystopian future world, vampires are the dominant race and their blood supply is dwindling. While the few remaining humans hide out and plot an overthrow, sympathizer Ed is working on a life-sustaining substitute while covertly trying to come up with a cure for vampirism.
On the flipside, his younger brother Frankie (Michael Dorman) is fully embracing his dark side and is a gung-ho military enforcer who loves to shoot his guns. This means that Ed has to hide his true intentions from everyone close to him — especially his slinky employer and his cutthroat sibling. But Ed's intentions are soon brought to light when it's discovered that he's harboring fugitive mortals and must go on the run. If not exactly embraced, Vampire Ed is brought into the revolutionary fold, where he gets to know renegade mover-and-shaker Audrey (Claudia Karvan), and a "cured" vampire who calls himself Elvis (Willem Dafoe). The trick is staying alive — or at least undead — long enough to develop the antidote.
Directed by The Spierig Brothers, Daybreakers builds upon the promise shown in their first feature (read horror.com's review of 2003's Undead here) but doesn't quite deliver. As far as improvements go, it's much more polished and pretty and it doesn't have as much unintended humor. As much. There are some scenes in Daybreakers in which Hawke is going for angst broke, while the screening audience was breaking into laughter. But it's OK — it's all in fun, and the movie is, admittedly, highly entertaining.
What's more, the cure for vampirism is pretty novel indeed. Dafoe is fantastically hammy as automobile-freak Elvis, and Neill is a cucumber-cool baddie who's so mean he's not even moved by his own daughter's plight in the gore-drenched underworld she's forced to share with the "subsiders" (hideous bat-like creatures shunned by vampires and humans alike).
Daybreakers has some trouble with tone but overall it's favorably comparable to well-regarded genre actioners like Blade or 30 Days of Night, and is vaguely reminiscent of classic sci-fi stories like Soylent Green or (another Chuck Heston vehicle) The Omega Man. The horror and gore is splatterific, so if you're in the mood for vampires that don't sparkle, have Southern accents, or keep diaries… go ahead and tear into Daybreakers this Friday (in theaters everywhere).
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson
* Read our interview with Ethan Hawke to see why he thought Undead "sucked!"