Stars: Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Christian Slater, Antonio Banderas, Stephen Rea. Directed by Neil Jordan. Rated R for nudity, horrific images, adult themes.

Vampire movies, like films about gangsters, are a dime a dozen in Hollywood. They pop up with such frequency that the horrific, yet romantic, image of a vampire has lost much of its original impact. The truth is that despite hundreds of imitators, the definitive vampire movie is still Universal's classic "Dracula". "Interview With the Vampire", which spins its tale as the recollections of a vampire to a reporter (Christian Slater), is neither the best nor the worst of the lot.

The plot unfolds when Lestat (Tom Cruise), a handsome, young vampire, gives a despondent widower named Louis (Brad Pitt) the chance to become immortal. Louis gratefully accepts his offer by drinking blood from the punctured wrist of Lestat. Unfortunately, Louis does not possess Lestat's killer instincts and resorts to feeding on rats and chickens rather than humans. As it turns out, Lestat is unusually malicious even for a vampire and Louis eventually decides to part company with him.

Lestat, however, is able to convince Louis to stay with him by turning a 12-year old girl, whom Louis reluctantly drank from and left for dead, into a fellow vampire. Together, the three form an odd, but loving, family. After 30 years as a vampire the girl begins asking tough questions such as how did she become what she is and why does she still possess the body of a child.

The answers to these questions infuriate her and she devises a plan to get rid of Lestat so that she and Louis can break free of his evil. Although not completely successful, the plan does allow the pair to escape Lestat's clutches. They use their newfound freedom to search the globe for others like themselves. After many years, they finally discover vampires living in Paris. But these vampires are not tolerant of anyone who would kill another of their kind. Only their leader, (Antonio Banderas), is remotely on their side.

The film confirms some aspects of vampire lore (sleeping in coffins), refutes parts of it (a wooden stake through the heart is not deadly), and introduces some that may be unfamiliar to audiences (the drinking of blood from a corpse is fatal). The tone of the film is brooding without respite.

Author Anne Rice, upon whose book "Interview With the Vampire" is based, publicly and vehemently denounced the casting of Tom Cruise in the role of the suave vampire Lestat. The film proves that her objections were well-founded. Although Cruise deserves much credit for the effort he obviously put into the role, his trademark smirks and cockiness occasionally surface to mar the performance.

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