By Louis Allred

Optimally, when reviewing any creative work, you want to enter with a clear head, free of preconceptions about the creators. You don’t want any bias tainting your work ahead of time. Unfortunately, we live in the real world, where this is nearly impossible when dealing with creators with any sort of track record. In the case of well-respected artists, your expectations may be overly built-up. In the case of less-respected artists (for example, Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg, the duo behind Vampires Suck), you brace for impact. It’s not fair, but that’s how the mind works. When I entered Vampires Suck, I braced for impact.

The usual cliché dictates that, at this point, I say something like, “But, Vampires Suck was a surprisingly clever spoof that blew my expectations out of the water. I’ve learned never to preconceive again!” That’s not happening. It is, unfortunately, business as usual for Seltzer and Friedberg here: 75 minutes of lame jokes and pop culture namedropping that can’t be considered “jokes.” It’s the “Here It Is! Look At It!” School of Comedy, and Seltzer and Friedberg (hereafter reduced to “Seltzberg” for brevity) are magna cum laude graduates of it.

I will begin with the positives, few they may be. Newcomer Jenn Proske does a cruelly accurate impersonation of Kristen Stewart’s Bella Swan. Her nervous, breathy delivery; the lip biting and twitching – it’s all there. And, in general, the film is surprisingly savvy regarding the Twilight films in general. Rather than the scattershot nature of their previous spoofs, Vampires Suck hews closely to the source material. Its story follows the plot of the first two Twilight films surprisingly faithfully. It does stray for the occasional joke (and I hesitate to say “joke,” as I’ll explain shortly), but always comes back to Twilight for the meat of the film. At least in structure, this is a parody in the classical sense, much as Naked Gun was a parody of cop movies, and Airplane a parody of disaster films.

Unfortunately, that’s the extent of what’s good about Vampires Suck. Everything else is a crushing disappointment (or not, if you’re familiar with Seltzberg’s oeuvre). In typical Seltzberg fashion, the gags come in two forms. First are the barely thought-out pop culture mentions; for example, when “Becca’s” friend (Becca / Bella, right? Right.) is asked “Who’s that?” she responds, “Oh, Snooki, J-WOWW, The Situation, DJ Paulie D….” And then we get a shot of some shirtless guidos. End of joke. Get it? Jersey Shore? There’s no punchline there; again, it’s the “Here It Is! Look At It!” School of Comedy. Who needs things like punchlines?

I’m reminded of a stand-up showcase I attended at the Comedy Store in L.A. a couple years ago (a friend of mine was performing). One of the acts was an impressionist. Her imitative skills were quite good; she did a dead-on Drew Barrymore, and the rest of her subjects were similarly accurate. However, her bits were little more than “Here’s Drew Barrymore saying things.” There were no actual jokes constructed around the impressions. For all her talent, it was ultimately a painful five-minute set because she didn’t do anything with what she had. It’s the same with Seltzberg’s references. It’s not enough to simply drop the Jersey Shore folks into a scene; you need to do something with them. On the rare occasion there’s anything resembling joke development, it’s quickly stopped with a fart joke or someone getting hit in the head.

The second form is the other side of the coin: jokes with the punchline over-explained. In a rip on the “murdered fisherman” scene from Twilight, the three evil vampires confront the fisherman and ask, “Do you know who we are?” The fisherman responds, “The Black Eyed Peas?” If it ended there, that could be a satisfactory joke. Then the shirtless vampire, annoyed, retorts, “Why does everyone think we’re the Black Eyed Peas?” OK, we’re taking the joke a bit too far, but I could still get behind going this long; obviously, he hears this often. THEN he continues, “I mean, she kinda looks like Fergie, and he kinda looks like Will.I.Am, but c’mon! There’s not even a white guy in the Black Eyed Peas!”

Was that torturous to read? It’s at least as bad on screen. Same goes for when a satellite dish falls on Becca’s head (don’t ask); it could be a well-timed, generic physical gag. Then bricks and masonry keep falling on her for at least 20 more seconds (which in comedy is an eternity). I think Seltzberg’s theory is as follows: If something happening once is funny, then having it happen a thousand times must mathematically mean it’s a thousand times funnier. As you can guess, this theory is dead wrong.

Even worse is that they waste actual comedic talent in front of the camera. Diedrich Bader – who will always be Lawrence from Office Space in my mind – plays Becca’s father, but gets few jokes, almost all of them lame. (The one time I emitted a sound during the movie was a stifled giggle during what was obviously a Bader ad-lib, so I still can’t credit that to Seltzberg.) Ken Jeong shows up for five minutes as one of the “Zolturi” (instead of “Volturi,” because Z’s are hilarious!) and manages not to be funny. In a clear signal of the sweet deal he must have negotiated, his five minutes granted him fifth billing over many people who were in way more of the movie. Even Dave Foley, member of one of the greatest comedy troupes in history, pops in for a moment without eliciting one laugh.

And maybe I’m getting prudish in my old age, but Vampires Suck also takes the PG-13 rating to some new limits. I look back to The Dark Knight; that film had little blood, no swearing, and no sex, yet had some people griping that it deserved an R simply for its intensity. Vampires Suck, however, had constant references to sex, copious amounts of blood (fake though it may have been), and the word “shit” at least fifteen times (as well as the allowed single PG-13 “fuck” at the end). The gore was the worst, though. At one point, a vampire is ripped apart, and each of his limbs is shown with meat hanging off the sockets. Another vampire’s head is baseball-batted off. And in the most extreme example, someone is shown with broken neck bones bulging out the side of his neck and a compound arm fracture. It’s very obviously fake, but it’s still off-putting. And this got a PG-13 with no one batting an eye. So in addition to being unfunny, it’s also nauseating. Good work, Seltzberg.

That Vampires Suck is a crass, near-humorless, lazy work should come as no surprise to anyone who knows of Seltzberg’s previous films. They traffic in that kind of work; proudly, it seems. But what’s honestly a bit disheartening is that, this time around, they actually had a structure and a plan. Unlike Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie, which are parodies of their sources in name only, they kept their focus on Twilight and New Moon. And I’m happy for even one step in the right direction. But all we get is that one step. All we’re left with are misfired gags and people getting hit on the head.

I do know, though, that this film is not targeted to me. The teen girls sitting behind me giggled and laughed the whole way through. So, hooray for the future of America, I guess.