Some might be surprised to see Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman’s name scroll by in the credits for new action/comedy Renfield, but if we remember all the way back to Kirkman’s 2000 comic series Battle Pope, it starts to make more sense. Turns out Kirkman was funny once, and his story/writing credits for Renfield—what with its over-the-top comedic gore and wry take on the over-stuffed horror genre by way of Universal movie monsters—proves that big time. It isn’t that this new one’s a capital-G Good movie per se, more like it’s exactly the kind of thing in which you want to see Nicolas Cage.
Renfield flips the script with the character Robert Montague Renfield (played by Tom Waits in the campy 1992 Francis Ford Coppola Dracula movie if that helps you picture who we’re talking about; here played by The Menu’s Nicholas Hoult). The plot turns the familiar character into a neurotic type struggling with his toxic relationship to his boss, Dracula (Cage), in modern day New Orleans. Our hero, as it were, stumbles into a support group for people in similar relationships, and uses their tales of woe to source bad guy meals for his convalescing vampire boss. Working this angle, however, puts Renfield at odds with the city’s most nefarious crime syndicate, the Lobos, which in turn leads him into a new world of good and evil, prompting him to join forces with dogged cop Rebecca (Awkwafina, who notably ditches the AAVE speaking patterns that landed her in hot water some time ago). They fight gangsters while Renfield works out how to get himself out from under Dracula’s thumb.
Renfield is, at times, very funny—like in an exchange of ska joke one-liners between support group members or in how director Chris McKay (The Lego Movie) faithfully sends up scenes from the 1931 Bela Lugosi Dracula. Hoult, meanwhile, keeps leaning further into comedy following roles in things like Hulu’s The Great. He has a knack for it, though he tends to play funny the same way across whatever he’s doing. Awkwafina is awkwa-fine as the cop with an over-inflated sense of justice, though it’s odd that her idea of right and wrong seems cherry-picked based on whom she likes personally or not. Parks and Rec alum Ben Schwartz is just plain bad as the heir to the crime family; Shohreh Aghdashloo as the matriarch, however, carries gravitas, brief though her scenes may be. Cage, meanwhile, for all his bluster in interviews about the film being Hoult’s thing, is at the height of his powers as the legendary movie/lit monster. Somehow, he straddles a bizarre sincerity within his over-the-top performance. Renfield is undoubtedly better when he’s on screen, unless, of course, we’re talking about the absurd gore; including a rather gruesome homage, presumably, to Mortal Kombat that we shan’t spoil here, but which made our entire audience groan, “Ohhhhhhhh!!!! Ewwww!”
And so it goes, all the way through to the predictable conclusion. Perhaps Renfield could be described as a formulaic buddy cop flick, like Lethal Weapon meets Dracula, but its players relish in its silliness, particularly under the learned craftwork of Cage. Don’t expect a transformative experience, that should be obvious, but do expect a super-fun time at the movies.
+Cage slays; absurd gore; silly in the right ways
-Original premise but un-original execution
Directed by McKay
With Hoult, Cage, Awkwafina, Aghdashloo and Schwartz
Violet Crown, Regal, R, 93 min.