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At the Movies: ‘Blade II’

March 20, 2002 GMT

There’s a theory that movies about foul, malevolent bloodsuckers are so common because Hollywood studio executives like to see themselves depicted on screen.

Whatever the reason, vampires are among the movie industry’s boogeymen of choice, leaving many a multiplex littered with the rotting corpses of bad horror flicks.

``Blade II″ is a better vampire movie than recent entries such as ``Queen of the Damned″ or ``Dracula 2000.″ That said, Wesley Snipes’ return as slayer of the undead still is fairly anemic, relying on blood, glossy effects, high-kicking combat and a head-banging soundtrack rather than authentic chills and scares.

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If you liked the original ``Blade,″ based on the Marvel comic book, you’ll probably like the sequel, which director Guillermo del Toro injects with a similar quotient of action and gore and an even higher body count.

If the idea behind the first movie _ a half-man, half-vampire hero waging a blood feud against a race of full-blooded vampires _ made you want to giggle, then it’s best to whistle on past ``Blade II.″

As with the first film, the only way to get through ``Blade II″ is if there’s complete disconnection of that part of the brain that determines when something is really, really silly. Give the premise the slightest critical thought while watching Snipes disintegrate vampires with his bottomless pistol of silver bullets (or stare too long at Snipes’ manicured-hedgerow hair), and you’ll likely suffer a demonic fit of the snickers.

The sequel opens explosively, with Blade rampaging through legions of bloodsuckers in a mission to rescue his mentor, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), who seemingly died in the first movie after being infected with the ``vampire virus.″ Turns out, Whistler’s being kept alive in stasis by Blade’s vampire enemies.

Reunited, Blade and Whistler return to their he-man, vampire-haters club headquarters, manned by Blade’s high-tech geek ally Scud (Norman Reedus). They’re reluctantly drawn into an alliance with the vampire overlord (Thomas Kretschmann), his daughter Nyssa (Leonor Varela) and their crack assassination unit, the Bloodpack, to fight a new breed of super-vampires that threatens humans and regular bloodsuckers.

What follows is a series of overlong setups where Blade and his confederates skulk around dank halls waiting to be attacked by the mega-vampires, called Reapers.

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Heavily influenced by ``The Matrix″ (what isn’t, these days?), the action of ``Blade II″ is a fast, furious blend of martial arts, gunfire and explosions. In between the fisticuffs, though, the movie generally lays down and dies, unable to maintain much interest beyond the occasional wisecrack from Whistler.

``Better get you some sunscreen, Buttercup,″ Whistler tells the leader of the Bloodpack vampires (Ron Perlman) when Blade formulates a plan to confront the Reapers in daylight.

The visual effects are a big advancement over the original ``Blade,″ though while watching vampires dissolve in showers of sparks is cool the first four or five times you see it, it’s deadly dull the 20th. And the image of the Reapers’ jaws splitting open to reveal their dead-meat improvement on the vampire’s fangs may put you off rare steak for a while.

Besides repetitive action, the movie simply goes on too long, del Toro lingering endlessly on moody, brooding buildups to fight sequences.

Snipes, Kristofferson and Perlman manage as much charisma as they can from a story that leaves little room for anything but alpha-vampire posturing.

There’s a hint of romance between Blade and Nyssa, but with a lifeless performance from Varela (who played the title role in the TV miniseries ``Cleopatra″), no sparks fly between them.

``Blade II,″ a New Line Cinema release, is rated R for strong pervasive violence, language, some drug use and sexual content. Running time: 117 minutes. Two stars (out of four).

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Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G _ General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG _ Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 _ Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R _ Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 _ No one under 17 admitted.