"Nicolas Cage as Dracula" is quite possibly the easiest sell ever for a movie, at least for me; add in the fact it’s a comedy — and not unintentionally, as some of the more regrettable Cage movies are — also starring Nicholas Hoult, Awkwafina and Ben Schwartz, and I can feel the money leaving my wallet faster than a vampire transforms into a bat. Unfortunately, "Renfield" proves its concept inexplicably isn’t as easy of a layup as it seems, squandering a fun idea while getting the absolute least out of its cast.
Hoult stars as the titular Renfield, Dracula’s "familiar" (minion) who has joined a support group for codependents grappling with toxic relationships. Renfield’s boss is a real bloodsucker with a penchant for manipulation and gaslighting … and shredding bodies into pieces with his fingernails. But I digress.
While reluctantly seeking fresh blood for his master, Renfield crosses paths with virtuous New Orleans police officer Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), and mafioso Teddy Lobo (Schwartz), a wannabe tough guy who still has the goofy Ben Schwartz good guy charm. If anyone actually works in the role in which they’ve been cast — a low bar, yet high praise for this movie — it’s Schwartz.
As an aside (if you’ll humor me for a moment), Schwartz is also the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog in that movie franchise, so in "Renfield" it’s both funny and distressing to hear Sonic shout profanities and threaten innocent people with violence. Will I ever be able to look at my beloved blue hedgehog the same way again?
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The hodgepodge of characters all find themselves mixed into an overwrought story that ultimately boils down to Renfield’s personal struggle to realize his self-worth and independence from a controlling, demanding Dracula. The cops and gangsters subplot being shoehorned in only underscores how razor thin the plot is. "Renfield" — directed by Chris McKay off a screenplay from Ryan Ridley and story by Robert Kirkman — is almost immediately straining for ideas to make this into a feature-length film. Even with a 93-minute runtime, by the halfway mark I felt as old and exhausted as Dracula.
Though there are some clever moments, and the Deadpool-esque excessively violent action sequences are moderately amusing, "Renfield" is way too earnest and not nearly as campy or over-the-top enough to work. It’s never really in on the joke, and the stars are giving performances that don’t seem to exist in the same movie. The concept-to-execution ratio here is all bark, no bite, if you will.
As a super fan (unironically) ofNicolas Cage, my ears perked up in the theater when I realized he was doing a variation of his accent from "Vampire’s Kiss," a 1988 horror/comedy where he plays a yuppie who becomes increasingly unhinged when he thinks he’s turning into a vampire. That film is a much better use of Cage’s singular talents than him playing an actual vampire, and certainly a movie I’d recommend over "Renfield." Now with hindsight, I’d recommend the latter had gone straight to streaming on Peacock.
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