Blood doesn't just run fast and furiously in "Blade." It drips, sprays and oozes. It flows in rivulets, trickles in thin streams, smears like sweet jam across delirious faces. It bursts in great globs from horribly deformed villains. In Stephen Norrington's overlong but extremely stylish adaptation of the cult comic book, blood is nothing less than sex, drugs and death themselves.
In "Blade," which should wind up as a finalist in the "Crow" looka-like contest, blood is a fashion statement, the recreational substance of choice for the ultimate in-crowd of night people. Next to a dose of O-positive, cocaine looks strictly 24 hours ago.
This is all by way of saying that film-goers who are the least bit squeamish about gore, vampirism and unremitting gun violence -- not to mention drug use, brutality against women and incest -- will want to give "Blade" a wide berth. But comic book fans who have yet to see one of their heroes brought to the screen with look and spirit intact (see "Spawn") will be delighted by this movie, which preserves the action and aesthetics of the comics with energy and flair.
Much of the success of "Blade" is due to Wesley Snipes, who plays the title character with mountain-like quietude and sensual strength (an effect deepened by his digitally enhanced voice). Outfitted with narrow opaque sunglasses, a long leather coat and a surfeit of tattoos, Snipes inhabits the role of Blade with macho ease. His dazzling smile -- which he bestows in brief, blinding flashes -- seems to be composed entirely of bicuspids.
Blade, as aficionados know, was born just after his mother had been bitten by a vampire (the grisly birth scene opens the movie), and he has lived his entire life trying to resist the vampire's insatiable thirst for blood by shooting up essence of garlic in ever-increasing doses. In addition to fighting his own legacy, he has fought to eradicate the vampires who walk among the living.
In "Blade" the vampires aren't just seeking fresh blood: They want to dominate the world, especially Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), a young overlord who rules Manhattan through converting downtown club kids and is trying to hasten a second-coming-like appearance of the Blood God.
Unlike the absurd pseudo-Gothic of "Interview with the Vampire" or Abel Ferrara's slightly more inventive "The Addiction," the setting of "Blade" is ingeniously evoked, at once wildly unreal and entirely believable.
The heroin chic, nihilist couture and Sybaritic abandon of New York night life are all marshaled to create a portrait of a lumpen class of hip parasites who are constantly on the prowl for their next sanguinary fix.
With his pasty, punkish look and slouchy sexuality, Dorff is a vampire for the millennium -- Bram Stoker by way of Robert Mapplethorpe.
With the help of Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) -- who makes Blade's massive, silver-stake-throwing guns and hollow-point bullets filled with garlic -- and a pretty hematologist (N'Bushe Wright), Blade seeks out Frost for the ultimate battle.
Norrington, whose background is in makeup special effects, preserves comic-book reality with sped-up action, camera zooms and flash edits.
And he wisely keeps the effects cheesy-looking when they need to be: a fight in a subway tunnel is staged with just the right touches of style and schlock.
So what's wrong with "Blade?" It's too long, for one thing. Norrington could have cut a few scenes of time-elapsed clouds and other fashionable flourishes without losing style points.
And then there's the sheer ridiculousness of it; the movie's climax seems to go on forever as Frost puts an elaborate, Rube Goldberg-like blood-collection system into play.
And the fight sequences tend to repeat themselves: You've seen one garlic-ized vampire explode like a mutant raspberry, you've seen 'em all.
Still, "Blade" has its rewards: Wesley Snipes has found a role worthy of his suave physical powers, and Stephen Dorff, so good in "Backbeat" and "I Shot Andy Warhol," once again brings superb focus and conviction to his role. Mark Isham's techno-inspired music score echoes and elaborates "Blade's" creepy, druggy, sexy vibe.
Indeed, if sex, drugs and rock and roll -- or vampirism, blood and rampant taboo-flouting -- are your thing, "Blade" should cut a lot of ice.
Starring Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, N'Bushe Wright, Kris Kristofferson
Directed by Stephen Norrington
Released by New Line Cinema
Rated R (strong, pervasive vampire violence and gore, language and brief sexuality)
Running time: 120 minutes
Sun Score: ** 1/2
Pub Date: 8/21/98