In The Darkrnby George McCartneyrnMoments, Redeemingrnand OtherwisernEven the weakest films can have a redeemingrnmoment or two. Whether it’srna clever actor reinventing a shopwornrnrole or an especially well-photographedrnscene, there is often enough to keep usrnfrom feeling entirely cheated of our timernand money. This month’s films underscorernthe point: None of the three reallyrnsucceeds (one is inexcusably tendentious),rnbut they all have something to offer.rnGuy Ritchie’s Snatch begins provocativelyrnat a Hasidic diamond exchange inrnAntwerp. Five men in black overcoats,rnoutsized homburgs, and sidecurls enterrnthe premises discussing—what else? —rnthe Annunciation. “It’s a nice story,” onernobserves. Another agrees: “After all, it’srnnot every day a virgin conceives a son.rnAnd it was the virgin that got the attention.rnA couple of hundred years, you gotrnthe Holy Catholic Church.” At this, arntiiird member of the bearded entouragerngroans, “Oy veyl” Could this have anythingrnto do with Ritchie’s personal life?rnHe has, as all the world knows, fathered arnchild with the Madonna of our time, arnwoman who gained celebrit)’ by singingrn”Like a Virgin.”rnSo far, so kosher. But then Ritchiernshifts into Pulp Fiction overdrive, spinningrnplot upon plot. Robbers break intornthe exchange and steal a diamond “as bigrnas your fist,” which, upon their return tornLondon, is promptly stolen by otherrnthieves who are then chased by the originalrnvillains. Somehow both criminalrnteams find themselves in the middle of arndispute between bare-knuckle-boxingrnpromoters. And so it goes. The film descendsrninto a nearly nonstop manic montagernpimctuated with flashes of violence:rnThugs feed their victims to pigs; someonernchops off a corpse’s arm; a gangsterrnknown as Bullet Tooth lives up to hisrnname. All of this is played deadpan forrnyuks, but the relenfless beatings, shootings,rnslashings, and maulings soon becomernnumbingly tedious.rnThen diere’s the dialogue: Ritchie, apparently,rnhas been reading RaymondrnChandler. One thug reminds another ofrnthe wisdom of adapting to circumstances.rnSnatchrnProduced by Columbia PicturesrnDirected and Written by Guy RitchiernReleased by Sony PicturesrnShadow of the VampirernProduced by Saturn FilmsrnDirected by E. Elias MerhigernScreenplay by Steven KatzrnReleased by Lion Gate FilmsrnThirteen DaysrnProduced by Kevin Costner andrnBeacon CommunicationsrnDirected by Roger DonaldsonrnScreenplay by Ernest R. Mayrnand Philip D. ZelikowrnReleased by New Line Cinemarnintoning, “When in Rome . . . ” Thernother retorts, “I’m not in Rome, I’m in arnhurry!” —lines directly stolen fromrnChandler’s 1944 screenplay for DoublernIndemnity. As if to prove it pays to recyclernthe ver’ best, Ritchie then makes the mistakernof supplying some witticisms of hisrnown coinage. The film’s central villain, arnmurderous gangster in his 60’s, declinesrnsugar for his coffee, growling, “No thankrnyou, I’m sweet enough.” Later, hernthreatens some potential vicdms. “Dornyou know what nemesis means?” he hissesrnthrough his dentures. “It’s a righteous inflictionrnof retribution by an appropriaternagent.” This isn’t Chandler; it’s desperate.rnThe film is almost redeemed by BradrnPitt’s performance as Mick, the Irish gypsy,rna bare-knuckle champion with an unstoppablernright cross and an hilariouslyrnimpenetrable accent. He perfectiy rendersrnthe confidence of a physically giftedrnyoung man blithely undaunted by hisrnlower-class impoverishment. Unfortunately,rnthe rest of Ritchie’s film lacksrnPitt’s marvelously funny insouciance.rnShadow of the Vampire also has its moments.rnIf nothing else, it’s beautifullyrnfilmed and graced by fine actors. Thernfilm’s premise, however, is fatally flawed.rnWe are asked to believe that German directorrnF.W. Murnau (John Malkovich)rnwas so committed to aesthetic authenticityrnthat he hired a real vampire to play thernlead in Nosferatu, his 1922 adaptafion ofrnBram Stoker’s Dracula.rnDespite the film’s serious tone, it feelsrnmore hke a “What If?” history sketchrnfrom Saturday Night Live. What if ClarkrnKent had been a German and fought forrnHitter as Ubermensch? WhatifMurnau’srnstar. Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe) hadrnbeen one of the undead?rnThese what-if differences are supposedrnto be alternately amusing and chilling,rnbut I found them mildly curious at best.rnWhy? Well, first, however historicallyrnsignificant, Nosferatu is a trite, ridiculouslyrnsimplified adaptafion of Stoker’s text.rnSecond, director E. Elias Merhige andrnhis writer Steven Katz fail to suggest whyrnanyone would find the tale at all compelling.rnAlthough Murnau’s silent film hasrnbeen hailed as a masterpiece by manyrnenthusiasts, I’ve always thought it quiterncharmless, little more than a cartoonishrnattempt to scare audiences. Thernmonster looks pathetically weak: Murnaurnunaccountably decided to invest hisrnvampire with the characteristics of arnfilthy, scrounging rat; his bloodsuckerrnlooks creepily feral, not seductivelyrnsuave. He’s a bald, beaked geek from arnsideshow, his tall, thin frame sidling awkwardlyrnwith a hunched, arthritic stiffness.rnHe looks about as threatening as anrnundernourished scarecrow. The film’srnonly accomplishment is that it opened arnvein of Dracula movies that remains unstaunchedrnafter 80 years. Still, the flowrnwasn’t fully primed unfil Tod Browning’srn1931 Dracula, in which Bela Lugosirnplayed the lead as a hypnotically seductivernroue. The fusion of sex and horror isrnthe public’s preferred catnip.rnIf the Dracula story works at all, it doesrnso as an allegory of sexual impulse deformedrnby repression until it erupts as arncaricattire of natural desire. That is whvrnthe count’s primary victims are invariablyrnyoung, engaged virgins. He bites theirrnthroats ostensibly to drink their life-givingrnblood, but his intenfions are unmistakablyrnerotic. The overly sheltered womenrnswoon in his arms and awaken infectedrnwith his unhealthy lust. Their passionsrndo not lead to new life, however, but tornan eternal existence among the undead.rnLust without love becomes an end in itselfrnThose in its grip are doomed to anrnAPRIL 2001/49rnrnrn