There’s a reason all of the promos and marketing material for Renfield highlight the seemingly bizarre yet perfect casting of Nicolas Cage as Dracula. Casting him was a genius move, as is the funny conceit of having Dracula’s familiar—the titular R.M. Renfield (Nicholas Hoult)—go to group therapy for toxic codependency. But the trouble is, these elements, good as they are, take up precious little time in the already brisk 93-minute runtime. Would you guess most of the plot has to do with corrupt cops and a drug-trafficking crime family? I wouldn’t, and didn’t. I wish that it did not.
One of the biggest issues for me when watching any kind of higher-concept studio picture is when I can see evidence of major recuts. It’s part of the reason Black Adam felt so off. Renfield is obscenely brief for all the things it wants to do. It boasts a lot of over-the-top, blood-soaked action, but the comedy and drama fall largely flat due to sheer speed. Three credited editors and the barest of stories.
The story follows Renfield who has, since his master’s last defeat, relocated the vampire prince to New Orleans. He has to provide the reconstituting Dracula with a steady supply of fresh blood. But, after so many years, the killing has gotten to him. He begins to attend a group meeting for people in toxic relationships where he gets advice on how to overcome his own from Mark, the therapist (Brandon Scott Jones). This is not good news for Dracula, of course.
At the same time, a traffic cop named Quincy (Awkwafina) is trying to take down the Lobo crime family after they murdered her hero cop father. Due to the family’s influence in New Orleans, and paying off part of the police, even the inept exploits of brash Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz) don’t result in meaningful convictions. Renfield and Quincy intersect as Renfield uses his Dracula powers (which he gets from eating bugs) to help her. The movie has a very murky sense of morality as it pertains to these, also. Killing innocent people is wrong. When he slaughters criminals or corrupt officers? He’s a hero. The movie never contends with the inherent hypocrisy of this.
The plot of this movie is a mess, I have to say. Based on a Robert Kirkman story with a screenplay from longtime Dan Harmon acolyte Ryan Ridley, you’d think the pedigree would be there for at the very least an entertaining movie. And let us not forget, you have Nicolas friggin’ Cage playing Dracula! That alone should have made this great. He is great, and all of the things having to do with Dracula directly are fabulous. The production design, costuming, and makeup are all top notch. Cage delivers a new but totally legitimate take on the character, which is impressive after 101 years in movies.
But beyond Cage (and Jones who got the only two actual laughs out of me), and a fine performance from Hoult, there is just a substandard cops-and-robbers narrative with a nigh-invulnerable superhero-type who tears people’s limbs off after eating a spider or some flies. It’s just so threadbare. What could have been a fun character study, a modern riff on classic Gothic characters, becomes a more lighthearted Morbius.
Many people—and certainly a lot of them were in the screening I attended—are perfectly content just to watch Cage revel in his Dracula fangs, but he’s hardly the main character, and everyone else is irritating or boring. Awkwafina can’t decide if she’s supposed to be funny or stoic. Schwartz is playing Jean-Ralphio without any of the charm. And I don’t care about corrupt cops or supremely annoying criminals. Get out of my Dracula movie!
Even the delightfully gruesome set pieces and Cage’s mastery can’t amount to more than a very dumb, not-funny comedy, a not-scary horror movie, and a not-exciting action movie.
Renfield will hit theaters April 14.