Rated R for strong language and vampire violence
Running time: 100 min.
Release date: October 27, 1995
Wes Craven, master of horror. Eddie Murphy, master of comedy. If you were to put them together, you might expect one raucous, well-crafted horror/comedy hybrid. Then along comes Vampire In Brooklyn and all your expectations are somehow dashed. These two masters of their respective crafts have somehow created a piece of work that is neither frightening nor particularly funny. In the case of Murphy, there is something to be said about a film where he is the central character but yet all of the comedic moments, what little there are here, are given to supporting characters. Eddie Murphy playing it straight is not terribly fun to watch.
Murphy plays a vampire named Maximillian, who hails from the Caribbean. He is the last of his kind and is on a mission to find a dhampir, or a human/vampire hybrid, and his mission leads him to Brooklyn. This is because the dhampir he has discovered is Brooklyn cop Rita Veder (Angela Bassett). Rita and her partner, the appropriately named Justice (Allen Payne), are the investigating detectives on the case of the ship's dead bodies. Rita has these strange suspicions about the case while simultaneously having visions, unaware of her vampiric bloodline. Apparently, Rita's mother had a fling with a vampire down in the Caribbean many years ago. This is hinted at throughout the plot and only given very few details, something which maybe the screenplay (by Murphy himself along with his brother Charles) should have pursued more, since it is vastly more interesting than what the final draft provided. Maximillian needs to confront Rita and coerce her into embracing her vampire roots before the next full moon or he will die. He recruits a small-time crook named Julius (Kadeem Hardison) to become his "ghoul" or his servant, so to speak, letting Julius know that it comes with many benefits. Most of those benefits appear to be various body parts falling off at inopportune moments, some of those moments creating the only funny scenes in the film. Meanwhile, a romance appears to be budding between Rita and her partner, Justice, which only complicates matters for Maximillian. This leads him to various machinations involving jealousy in order to drive a wedge between the two cops, in a plot device straight out of a romantic comedy. Sounds frightening, doesn't it?
The biggest issue the film has is that Wes Craven is unable to properly mesh the comedy with the horror, as each element shows up within the story, but neither shares the screen. Part of that falls on Eddie Murphy, whose Maximillian character is played straight without a hint of irony. Murphy's comedy bits come in the form of playing other characters, like he did in The Nutty Professor. He gets some chuckles playing a preacher attempting to convince his congregation that both evil and ass are good. He also plays an Italian hood to less success, coming off more obnoxious than funny. When Maximillian is on-screen, the tone gets serious and tries to turn back to horror, but then again, there never really are any truly scary moments lodged in the story. To his credit, the special effects here are good but they're really just fancy window dressing on a trailer home. The screenplay never lives up to the premise on hand. One of the lost opportunities was the chance to explore more of Rita's bloodline and how she became a dhampir. Instead we get casual side remarks from supporting characters to piece that puzzle together.
A good cast is really wasted here; Murphy is quite charming as Maximillian and has good chemistry with Angela Bassett. Bassett's character is a tad confusing, as she comes off as the tough cop at times, but is a screaming mess in other scenes. It really is rather questionable, however, that Rita would even give a guy like Maximillian the time of day, who oozes slime ball at the same time that he's being charming. Maybe it was the ridiculous wig. Kadeem Hardison and John Witherspoon, as Julius' uncle Silas, provide the bulk of the comedy lifting and are quite adept at it. Without their performances, the film really has nothing to fall back on. Allen Payne as the cop/love interest is also pretty solid, and in theory his character was the hero, however with Murphy in the lead Payne's performance is unheralded.
Vampire In Brooklyn suffers as a whole due to the frequent shifts in tone from comedy to horror. The two differing tones are never brought together as a whole. The comedy is only rarely funny, thanks to Hardison and Witherspoon, and the horror is never really discovered. Craven would get his mojo back with his next film, Scream. Eddie Murphy would rediscover himself in The Nutty Professor shortly after this film. However, imagine what could have happened if the two masters had somehow elevated this material. So much promise left unfulfilled.