Review: Renfield (2023)

The modern era of Nicolas Cage's career has seen the actor taking wild risks and seeking roles that interest and engage him. Sometimes those risks pay off, other times they don't. On paper, Cage as Dracula sounds like inspired casting, and let's face it, this is the stuff that cult movie dreams are made of. 

Unfortunately, Nic Cage can't save Renfield. Sure, he's clearly having fun in the movie, but the dirty little secret of this movie is that Cage is a supporting player who doesn't have all that much screen time. Nobody should be surprised, since the movie is titled "Renfield", but it's a shame because whenever Cage is on screen, the movie is engaging and fun. When he's not--which is too often--it fails. 

Is Renfield a comedy? It's not funny. Is it horror? There are no frights. Is it an action movie in the vein of John Wick? On that note, at least, it provides things that we haven't seen in a while, such as people being beaten to death by their own limbs (a gimmick David A. Prior capitalized on some 35 years ago in Deadly Prey). But mostly, Renfield feels like a joke that doesn't land. "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if...?" As it turns out, no; it's mostly just boring. I found myself checking my watch 22 minutes into the movie after the movie had delivered everything it had to offer. Renfield never commits to any particular direction or tone, which makes for an experience that is unfunny, uneven, and uninteresting. Cage brings the magic, but he can't save the movie.

Nicholas Hoult does a fair job as a sensitive action anti-hero, but it's not a character that I'm interested in watching. With a focus on self-help and the sort of therapy jokes that thirty-somethings apparently find humorous, we've got a self-conscious lead that's so conflicted that we have no real reason to care what happens to him. Awkwafina seems woefully miscast as a tough street cop and potential love interest. But once again, that's the movie's lack of identity in full effect, because one minute she's trying to deliver serious dialogue about the cost of the badge while also making stupid jokes that don't land. Not only did I not laugh once during the film, I never even smiled. Comedian Ben Schwartz plays some sort of drug kingpin crossed with a street tough thug, but once again seems like a casting misstep. The problem seems to be an ironic detachment from anything resembling real human emotion or relatable sentiment. It's a poison that plagues many modern comedies. 

Renfield comes from Robert Kirkman's Skybound Entertainment. I like Robert Kirkman; he's the creator of The Walking Dead and his Invincible comic blew my mind and still remains a high benchmark for fun, compelling superhero comics that break free from our expectations. But this story, which he's co-created with screenwriter Ryan Ridley and Ava Tramer, feels half-baked and not up to the standards that I associate with him. Hiring the director of The Lego Batman Movie for an R-rated horror/comedy/romance/action movie doesn't seem like the best idea either. 

The one bright spot of the movie for me is seeing Cage and Hoult re-enact scenes from Universal's 1931 classic Dracula, with Cage standing in for Bela Lugosi and Hoult doing his best Dwight Frye impression. It's charming and at least indicates that the filmmakers are actually familiar with some of the Dracula source material--not to mention a stone cold horror classic.

For Cage-aholics seeking their favorite actor as a vampire, I'd refer them to 1988's Vampire's Kiss instead. That movie is full of many layers and remains one of Cage's best performances. Maybe he saw Renfield as a way to bookend something that he started all those years ago; the problem is, Vampire's Kiss is memorable. Renfield is not. 


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