The appropriate reaction to watching Dracula’s manservant impale enemies through the chest with bones taken from severed human arms is definitely not boredom. Yawning through “Renfield” either tells me something wildly upsetting about myself or about director Chris McKay’s misguided attempt at irreverence. The thing about a horror-action comedy is that, and hear me out, it probably needs to be funny.

“Renfield” confuses stupidity and absurdity with having actually created something humorous. It is a joke premise without a punchline. Yet I hesitate to synopsize it. Because a description of it is going to sound like a madcap, goofball romp. Nay! No caps are mad, even if balls get romped. Sigh, but movie-reviewing bylaws are strict, so here’s what happens…

After ages spent procuring victims for Dracula (Nicolas Cage), Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) has developed a conscience. He resents himself and is repeatedly referred to as an “empty husk” that his boss fills with evil. When vampire hunters reduce Vlad to a sickly icky picky eater, the pair flee to New Orleans. There, Renfield joins a support group for codependents who are beholden to vile narcissists. You’d think Dracula would be the worst of the abusers, but there’s a woman whose boyfriend really loves ska.

Somehow, and that single word does more to explain things than the script does, Renfield runs afoul of the Baton Rouge mafia, led by raspy-voiced scaremonger Bella Lobo (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and her doofy son, Teddy (Ben Schwartz). Rebecca (Awkwafina), the only noncorrupt cop in the state of Louisiana, wants to avenge her father’s death at the hands of the Lobos. So she buddies up with Renfield, who gets superpowers when he eats bugs, while Dracula joins the mob. Severed limbs are tossed like confetti, and blood sprays fountains like tears in the rain.

The audacity of a movie with that summary to frequently attempt sincerity feels like watching a billionaire tell jokes on Twitter. Why are you doing a thing that you very much do not have to do and that no one enjoys? We came here for Nic Cage fanging scenery and Jean-Ralphio as a tattooed naughty-doer. Awkwafina is repeatedly asked to produce pathos. Because when you think “This scene needs emotional legitimacy,” your next thought is always “Thank goodness we have Awkwafina doing this.”

They spent money on this, folks. They spent like $100 million making Nicholas Hoult’s eyes glow when he munches on a cricket. The fight scenes have colossal scale, with a motel battle that results in a literal mountain of corpses. Why is it so dull? How is it both rushed to the point of incoherence and listless? What was the thinking behind presenting Renfield as “the most prolific serial killer of all time” and then asking us to treat him like Spider-Man with cockroach breath?

“Renfield” had more than promise. It had a Nicolas-Nicholas sandwich filled with gore and whatever I think “camp” is. Alas, just as vampires can’t eat human food, no humans should devour this vampire feast.

Grade = D

Other Critical Voices to Consider

Allison Willmore at Vulture says “Awkwafina actively struggles to pin down the movie’s tone. Only Hoult and Cage seem really to grasp it. Or in the case of Cage, define it.”

Katie Smith-Wong at Flick Feast says “there is an abundance of bone-crunching, gory-as-hell action sequences that are boosted by the inventive efforts of ‘Daredevil’ stunt coordinator Chris Brewster. Although they are few and far between…”

Travis Hopson at Punch Drunk Critics says “The tone is schlocky and silly, the gore is insanely over-the-top as limbs are ripped, heads stomped and exploded with reckless abandon… It provides the perfect platform for Cage to go wild, even channeling the great Bela Lugosi.”

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