Hawke, Dafoe dip into gory vampire doings

At a certain sublimely cheesy point in the dark and gory Daybreakers, there's a mad run on a cafe: swarms of deprived customers leaping over the counter to get at the baristas and the specialty drinks that they've been slow to serve.

Starbucks it's not.

The sought-after beverage is human blood, and in the year 2019, 10 years after "the outbreak" that has turned most of the world into vampires, the supply is nearly gone. Only 5 percent of the population is human - they've been systematically captured and then sucked dry - and the efforts to come up with a synthetic alternative to keep the vampires going have not gone well.

Just ask Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), a vampire hematologist with the global blood supplier Bromley Marks: His latest concoction, injected into the veins of a vampire volunteer, at first appears to work. But a few quickening pulse rates later and the guy's head is exploding in a monumental spray of ooze and slime. Needless to say, Edward's boss, Charles Bromley (Sam Neill, with pointy canines), is not pleased.

Shot in Australia by writing-and-directing twin brothers Michael and Peter Spierig, Daybreakers is not one of those Twilight riffs on suppressed passion with handsome young bloodsuckers as protagonists. The world of Daybreakers is dark and fascistic. The "subsiders" - vampires gone bad for lack of nourishment - are a pustular, zombielike menace.

But wait! There are still a few valiant humans out there, willing to fight the good fight. And Willem Dafoe, in '50s Fonzie couture, happily slinging cornpone commentary in a Southern accent, is one of them. He's Lionel "Elvis" Cormac, a car mechanic who has managed to survive the plague, and who rides around in a Trans Am with his comrade Audrey (Claudia Karvan, in a "get me a Famke Janssen" role). When Elvis and Audrey cross paths with Edward - a reluctant vampire, at best - the seeds of a rebel plot are sown. So, too, is a possible "cure" that could turn the undead back into healthy, sunlight-loving mortals - a cure that has something to do with large winery vats. (The Spierigs were probably downing large quantities of Aussie merlot during their script-writing sessions.)

While the characters are B-movie thin, the dialogue standard-issue, and the CG and matte effects only passable at best, it's undeniable fun to behold the likes of serious thespians Hawke and Dafoe slumming around in this cheeseball stuff.

Daybreakers could be viewed as a metaphor for some epic eco-disaster, or for a world where the thirst for oil has brought apocalyptic consequences, or where famine has turned people into raging mobs - but all that would necessitate taking the film far more seriously than Dafoe, for one, with his Southern-fried one-liners and rolled-up pant cuffs, seems to be doing.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/


Directed by Peter Spierig, Michael Spierig. With Sam Neill, Jay Laga'aia, Ethan Hawke, Christopher Kirby, Renai Caruso, Willem Dafoe, Michael Dorman, Isabel Lucas, Vince Colosimo, Claudia Karvan. Distributed by Lionsgate.

Running time: 1 hours, 38 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for strong bloody violence, language and brief nudity).