Mad-Libbing plot points, aesthetics and actors from Blade, John Wick and Collateral before calling it an overnight, Night Teeth is another Netflix genre outing where the wildest thing is the power bill. After Project Power, Kate, Army of the Dead and this film (debuting Wednesday on the streamer), the studio seems more keen on kilowatt hours than adding any kick to the kitsch.
Writer Brent Dillon crafts an intriguing first act. Jorge Lendeborg Jr. and Debby Ryan are engaging leads. Director Adam Randall’s crew certainly boasts a high completion rate in the John Wick Lighting Certificate Program. But Night Teeth is muzzled by a miniature canvas for multicultural touches, meaningful character interaction and monster lore, a miniseries idea folded to feature form. For a film about the collapse of a century-long truce between humans and vampires, it’s frustratingly low-stakes.
It’s a detente that’s done well for 100 years. Vampires have agreed to live in secret and feed in antiseptic, artisanal ways through exclusive blood clubs and blood-bag humans for hire. Mankind, meanwhile, has forgotten to be afraid. People created a lot of books and movies, of course, but got most of the details wrong. (Outside of a mirror-reflection joke, Dillon has disappointingly little fun forming his own mythology as a potential frisson.) The vampires have three simple rules: Don’t feed on the unwilling. Don’t let the other humans know they exist. And in Los Angeles, don’t enter the Boyle Heights neighborhood without permission lest crossbow-wielding vigilantes like the Night Legion intervene.
But when an ambitious vampire named Victor (Alfie Allen) upends that peace, it presses Jay (Raúl Castillo), a third-generation human protector, into unexpected offense mode. It’s even interfering with Jay’s day job as a chauffeur. So he’s more than happy to hand over a shift to his younger brother, Benny (Lendeborg). But Benny’s got to follow his own rules: Always say he’s Jay, take the clients wherever they need to go and don’t blow the luxury SUV’s subwoofers.
A college student pushing plagiarized papers and pursuing dreams of electronic music-making, Benny always seeks a new hustle. Boasting a long list of parties to attend before sunrise, Zoé (Lucy Fry) and Blaire (Ryan) ooze with privileged energy when Benny picks them up in Beverly Hills; “you wouldn’t know a party if it fucked you in the face,” Zoé scowls at Benny. But Benny learns these top-dollar clients are murderous vampires moonlighting for Victor to vanquish his competition, clear decks for his chaotic reign and then take out Jay, whom they believe to be their driver.
Night Teeth establishes an engaging vibe early. The notion of Argyle as Die Hard’s main hero creates a buoyant feeling that takes flight with the same easygoing charisma Lendeborg brought to 2018’s Bumblebee. Fry brings some invigorating evil-Margot Robbie energy, and Ryan especially keeps you guessing on whether Blaire is fond of Benny or simply gaming him with the soft skills that the predatory Zoé lacks. Sydney Sweeney (HBO’s Euphoria and The White Lotus) and Megan Fox turn up as scantily-clad vampire elders. Allen does a decent Deacon Frost 2.0. It flirts with the notion that much of Boyle Heights’ BIPOC community is being forced to the fringe along with the vampires, and that the access and visibility Benny craves isn’t dissimilar from Blaire and Zoé’s power play and could generate a hesitant alliance.
But Night Teeth chews on all of this so slowly, low on incident or tension, lousy with exposition and letting nearly an hour lapse before a confrontation of consequence. The often offscreen ease with which Zoé and Blaire mow down mafia-like sects of vampires in Victor’s way is bizarre. There’s no room for relationships to blossom in any believable way, such as the ridiculous indifference from Jay when he learns Benny is rolling with vampires or the weak girlboss glue that has held Blaire and Zoé together through so many decades. Any tussles with the Night Legion Shadow Squad Moon Unit whatever deliver action that’s boilerplate at best. And all of this world-building blips out so weakly; given what transpires, the notion that “the whole world’s changed and everyone’s gonna have to take a side” feels like instant evaporation.
Eternal life as an even greater excuse to delay your dreams is a fleshy idea at which Night Teeth should have torn a bit more. Compared to Netflix’s best outing in its recent barrage of bloodsucker cinema, this is just one blood-red sigh.