Visually and atmospherically, the video game-like vampire-action sequel "Blade II" is slick, dark and cool, yet it doesn't take itself too seriously. The flick's fancy-schmancy martial arts fight scenes even incorporate low-brow wrestling moves like the pile-driver.
But strip away its elusive sense of humor and its expensively hip Hong Kong-spawn sheen, and what's left is a sloppy plot, lifeless characters (no pun intended), and elementary execution masquerading as something more.
Based on one of those now-ubiquitous comic books set in a dusky, dingy alternative reality, the movie is about a vampire hunter who is half vampire himself -- he has all the usual bloodsucker powers but he can go out in the sun. Wesley Snipes, sporting a flamboyant flattop coif, wrap-around shades and a black leather duster, reprises his title role from the 1998 original, which was pretty much nothing but blood-splattered nightwalker-daywalker showdowns set to a rave music beat. Knowledge of that movie isn't a prerequisite for this one, which is a marked improvement while still being saddled with all the same problems.
The vampires are so ridiculously easy to kill that it's hard to not wonder why the world needs someone like Blade at all. The action often pauses for 5- to 10-minute intervals for clunky expository dialogue about mythology, backstories, vampire-killing gadgets or evil plans. The story ignores or circumvents big chunks of common vampire lore without explanation. The movie's timeline is so out of whack that two sunrises fall within an eight hour period and Blade's smart-mouthed, stoner dude gadget guru can invent, then mass-produced, new lines of custom weaponry within the same abbreviated day.
But while "Blade II" never engages the imagination enough to shrug off such fallacies, at least the concept behind it is intriguing. The vampires that Blade has been hunting his whole life have come to him to join forces because "now there's something worse on the streets."
Enter the reapers, genetically mutated vampires that have evolved huge mouths with disconnecting jaws that split open under the chin and feature sucker-like tongues with teeth. Their crack addict-like bloodthirst is so strong they feed on both humans and vampires, which is why the vamps ask Blade to lead their elite force of face-tattooed, leather-trousered Goth-fashioned mercenaries on a mission to take out these uber-baddies.
Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro ("The Devil's Backbone," "Mimic") has a seductive talent for both ambiance and pacing, and he tries his best to mask the movie's many weaknesses. But it's a constant struggle, akin to Blade fighting off dozens of reapers in a last-act fight scene.
The picture is riddled with clichés -- Blade cracks his neck side-to-side before giving an enemy vampire the "bring it on" signal. It teems with bad acting -- especially from the leaden Leonor Varela (from the miniseries remake of "Cleopatra"), who plays the babe daughter of the vampire leader without changing her facial expression once in 108 minutes. And Del Toro fails to lay the groundwork for most of the story. While we're told, for example, that the vampire leader is involved in some kind of conspiracy, we're not privy to how or why he runs a huge corporation, complete with a fortified business park headquarters, a helicopter landing pad and a company logo. Nor do we know what the company does.
Most of this wouldn't matter much if the action were consistently entertaining. But while "Blade II" is kinetic, handsome and audience-indulgent, there's not one memorable moment in any of its shootouts, sword fights or quick-cut, CGI-aided super-kung-fu face-offs. The movie's best scenes are actually those stolen by its one actor with genuine charisma -- lantern-jawed giant Ron Perlman ("The City of Lost Children," "Alien: Resurrection"), playing a bad-dude vampire rival for Blade's leadership of the mercenary strike force.
This picture might pass muster as low-expectation popcorn fare, but that's not enough to earn it a recommendation.