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MovieBob's Take: The Strain Premiere Was a Strain to Watch

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 21 Jul 2014 12:00
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It opens promisingly enough, with flight attendants discovering, mid-flight, that something is alive and moving around in the cargo hold. "Something" turns out to be some variety of immense creature, and when (after a cut to opening credits) the plane touches down at a major metropolitan airport, almost everyone on board is dead or without recollection of what went down. The obvious reference point here is a modernizing of Dracula, where the ship ferrying the Count's coffin to London arrives with a dead crew. Speaking of Dracula, missing from the scene is an ornate wooden "cabinet" that seems to have left behind traces of foreign soil crawling with parasite-like worms.

Again, not a bad start: A Dracula-inspired spread-of-vampirism story refitted into a modern "outbreak" thriller. But the promise starts to slip early on as the characters are introduced and none of them seem particularly engaging, likable or even well-performed. Sure, the Ensemble Disaster affect calls for a large crew of broad stock-types; but it's the work of the actors that sets, for example, a slog like Dante's Peak apart from a campy triumph like Volcano (or, to a lesser but more recent extent, Sharknado.) This crew, frankly, doesn't give one much call to even care to learn their names, let alone root for their success or failure.

The ostensible protagonist is Corey Stoll as Ephraim Goodweather, (good lord, but that name! Why can't you be more good, show???), a CDC "Canary Team" agent who comes off like every ornery doofus you've ever met who landed a government job with "agent" in the title and thinks that entitles (or requires) him to act like Jack Bauer. David Bradley as Abraham Setkarian, the aforementioned aged vampire-slayer, has the requisite "grandfather figure in a Guillermo del Toro movie" look and verve down pat, but he's an action figure -- not a character. The street-tough turned unwitting-thrall driving not-Drac's not-coffin into the city feels like he stepped out of a deleted scene from Crash (the maudlin racism one, not the car-crash sex one) and Sean Astin turns up seemingly to shore up Geek Cred (he's a Goonie and a member of The Fellowship!) but his main function as a character is a twist that would've felt pat even without the "obvious-good-guy-so-obviously-NOT-a-good-guy" stunt-casting. And let's not get started on the ominous Vampire(?) Businessmen who stand in their sleek penthouse office looking out over the city smirking about the damage they aim to do, who feel like they walked in off the set of one of the Blade movies -- ironically, the two less-good ones that del Toro didn't direct.

Maybe it will get better. I want it to get better. Both because I'd like to watch a gonzo disaster/zombie/vampire/outbreak mashup that lived up to that premise for awhile, and because del Toro could really use a legitimate mega-success that didn't come with a qualifier of "Overseas... eventually."

But so far, one could be forgiven that the "strain" in the title refers to the effort needed to sit through it. Too bad...

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