“Night Teeth” never met a long-winded piece of exposition it didn’t love. As its neon-colored opening credits slip by, star Debby Ryan’s narration introduces the audience to a secret world of vampires. They are very real, she says, with a long-held, tenuous truce between the bloodsuckers and the humans keeping the bad stuff at bay. Most stories, books, films, and TV shows get the details wrong.
And then she goes on, and on: Her early promise to tell a new story becomes an excuse to unspool the many (many) rules that dictate this world. Vampires can’t let humans know they exist; they can’t feast on anyone unwilling; and they can never set foot in the East LA neighborhood of Boyle Heights. (For anyone hoping that such a specific setting would inspire interesting locations, you’re out of luck. Although it was shot in LA and New Orleans, it looks like it could have been filmed anywhere.)
What should be a fun addition to the vampire lore becomes mired in murky dissertations, nonsensical character twists, and a worrying lack of understanding of how to strike a fun tone. “Night Teeth” lacks much more than bite. It’s incoherent to boot.
The plotline is simple, and clever: Think “Collateral” meets “Lost Boys.” Charming and naive college student Benny (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.) gets stuck driving around a pair of wild vampire gals (Ryan and a dementedly wonderful Lucy Fry) as they wreak havoc on the city. The film’s undoing is first-time screenwriter Brent Dillon’s affection for convoluted storytelling and the inability of director Adam Randall (“I See You”) to keep even the most elemental character motivations on track.
It’s not clear whose story “Night Teeth” is meant to be. We’re introduced to wild-eyed wraith Victor (Alfie Allen), who is hellbent on burning down the vampire-human truce and freeing his bloodsucking brethren. He succeeds (and Allen seems to have fun with his role), but then he crosses paths with (Raul Castillo( who deserves his own action franchise, just not this one), a private driver and head honcho of Boyle Heights’ secret anti-vampire league. And Jay has a younger brother, Benny, a striving college student with big dreams and not a lot of cash or common sense. This is our main character (right? I’m still not sure), but that’s a lot of introduction, backstory, and piled-on drama for a film that should be focused on having a good time.
When Jay needs someone to complete an all-night gig for him (no worries that Jay seems frantic, crazed, and is packing a bunch of scary knives on his way to wherever), Benny volunteers. And when he arrives at a snazzy mansion to pick up Blair (Ryan) and Zoe (Fry), a pair of party girls looking for an all-night chauffeur, it seems like all fun and games. Of course, Benny is about to be sucked into the vampire underworld — by way of confusing subplots, ham-handed exposition, and an oddly dismissive attitude toward the film’s more entertaining possibilities.
Blaire takes to their new pal — their mutual affection is meant to hold up the entire film — but Zoe has no time for cherub-cheeked humans trying to do a good job. These girls are on a mission, one that involves lots of money and bloodsucking and little regard for human life. Still, they are merely foot soldiers in service to Victor’s plan to usurp the current vampire hierarchy, taking a big ol’ bite out of the human population in the process and maybe having some fun while they do it. (Sadly, the fun turns out to be largely grating and confusing.)
“Night Teeth” wants to be bitter and biting and self-aware and very funny and more than a little scary. Fry’s go-for-broke performance brings moments that succeed, but little else breaks through the muck. Allen gets off with a few winking jibes, and a late appearance by Alexander Ludwig as a demented Venice vampire boss adds serious pop, but no one else works on Fry’s zippy wavelength. Her increasingly unhinged performance ensures that “Night Teeth” isn’t an entirely bloodless flop, but even she stalls out as the film crawls along beyond a 100-minute running time.
Swapping in frustrating twists and turns in place of actual amusement and realistic character development (a modicum of consistency is welcome, even in wacky vampire films), the film lurches toward its confounding end. Inevitably, it seems to set up a sequel, but who would want to go back for a second bite?
“Night Teeth” is now streaming on Netflix.