When the promising, recently deceased young R&B singer and actress Aaliyah is on screen in the title role of "Queen of the Damned," it's impossible to look away from her. She absolutely transcends the screen and fills the whole theater with her potent presence. Bewitching, viperous, powerful, beautiful, sensual and captivating in every sense of the word, she dominates this incongruous vampire flick with her chilling allure.
Seeing her talent burst forth like this makes the plane crash that took her life last year all the more tragic. But in watching "Queen of the Damned" the more immediate misfortune is that her last performance comes in such a bad, bad movie. With its disengaging shallowness and cardboard cutout atmosphere, you'd never know "Queen of the Damned" was based on an Anne Rice novel if the film's real central character weren't such a well-known ghoul as the Vampire Lestat.
As played by slinky Stuart Townsend ("About Adam," "Shooting Fish"), this Lestat is a vacantly bloodthirsty porcelain Goth-rocker who bears no resemblance to the lithesome, charismatically nuanced, unexpectedly mesmerizing version of the character that Tom Cruise inhabited in 1994's "Interview with the Vampire."
Awakened after a century's slumber by the hardcore pulse of a thrash band practicing in his boarded-up New Orleans mansion, by the end of the opening credits Lestat has become a rock star, without the script going into any detail whatsoever about his rise to fame. Director Michael Rymer ("In Too Deep") is so inexplicably eager to skip over such a potentially fascinating storyline that he has Lestat emerge from his crypt after 100 years already sporting leather pants and apparently well versed in the finer points of head-banging to heavy metal guitar music.
The Cliff's Notes of a plot -- involving a pretty, young occult student (Marguerite Moreau) seeking out Lestat to become a vampire for reasons that go largely unexplained -- is used as filler leading up to a huge outdoor concert in the desert. At the show, scores of the world's vampires show up to kill rock god Lestat for going public as a vampire. Apparently this is against some vampire code of ethics, even though the media and Lestat's audience think the claim is just his Marilyn Manson-like gimmick persona.
The question "Damned" doesn't bother answering is why, if it's so important to keep the existence of vampires a big secret, all these bloodsuckers decide to make a huge scene trying to wax Lestat in front 100,000 fans while TV cameras are recording the whole thing. Why not just, say, show up at his uber-cool L.A. pad and off the guy while no one is around?
Meanwhile, our anti-hero's antics have somehow awakened Akasha (Aaliyah), the ancient Egyptian "mother of all vampires," who has designs on making the egotistical Lestat her companion in carnage. This, in turn, makes Lestat sprout an out-of-character conscience for no explored reason.
Aaliyah blows Townsend and everyone else off the screen in her few brief scenes, slinking serpent-like through her seduction of Lestat and many massacres of humans and immortals alike. Not only is she the sole cast member who can deliver the script's Z-movie dialogue convincingly, but she does so in dead sexy, barely there, bikini-of-the-pharaohs armor.
As it is far more MTV than Anne Rice, "Queen of the Damned" has a few visual high points, the most effective of which is a neat-o air-brushing effect that gives Townsend and Aaliyah unnaturally smooth, almost marble-like skin that makes them look cold and truly unearthly in close-ups.
But a wee bit of clever digital grease paint is hardly enough to distract one from the "Vampires For Dummies" performances or the nonsensical plot devices (Lestat leaves a diary lying around London to be found). Nor does Aaliyah's posthumous proof of untapped acting talent counter the many conspicuously unresolved story threads or the myriad of other problems which all point to one inevitable conclusion:
The people who made "Queen of the Damned" were more interested in producing a slick and cool product than they were in quality, continuity or integrity.
Run time: 101 mins
In Theaters: Friday 22nd February 2002
Box Office USA: $30.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $45.5M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Village Roadshow Pictures, NPV Entertainment, Warner Bros Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 17%
Fresh: 22 Rotten: 107
IMDB: 5.2 / 10
Director: Michael Rymer
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