What We Do in the Shadows, a mockumentary comedy that tracks the lives of four vampires rooming together in Wellington, New Zealand, has a few decent jokes. If you're suddenly fixating on the rough, paltry number hinted at in my estimate and bracing for the accompanying negative review, allow me to steer you in a slightly different direction.
Many great comedies only have a few jokes. They succeed because of the variation in the way that joke is told again and again. Ron Burgundy is a fucking idiot. He's insecure, clueless, sexist and he has an outsized ego. Anchorman works because it points these few simple facts out over and over again in hilarious fashion. Ron Burgundy is such a moron that he will read anything you put on the teleprompter and he thinks diversity is an old wooden ship. He's so insecure that he pretends to do curls in his office to impress Veronica Corningstone and ends up drinking milk on a hot San Diego day when she is promoted to co-anchor.
Where What We Do in the Shadows stumbles is in both the quality of its core gags and in the sporadic execution of the best ones. Three vampires -- Viago (Taiki Waititi), Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) and Deacon (Jonny Brugh) -- live together in a shabby, dark-and-dusty-by-necessity flat in New Zealand's capital. They have seen it all over the centuries, but rather than being masters of deception and seduction, they are bungling and petty. They spend more time arguing over chore wheels and dirty dishes than luring easy targets to their lair. Only the far greater dimwittedness of some of Wellington's denizens seem to keep them well fed.
This … is actually a pretty good joke. But it’s not told consistently or very well throughout the film. It doesn’t get any better than that chore wheel, which shows up in both the trailer for the film and within the first 10 minutes Instead, there are asides that delve in to Viago’s lost love (now an elderly woman) and bring two more members to their crew, Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), a hapless victim-turned-vampire, and his friend Stu (Stuart Rutherford), who the guys like too much to actually feed upon.
And there is a promising, but not fully explored subplot about a rivalry with the local werewolves, who are led, with plenty of dry wit, by Rhys Darby. (More Rhys Darby next time, fellas.) What We Do in the Shadows, in case you can’t tell from my attempted synopsis, is all over the place, and not in a good way. Given the involvement of Clement, who co-wrote and co-directed with Waititi and is best known for his fine work on HBO’s Flight of the Conchords, I was hoping for quite a lot more.
This should have been New Zealand’s answer to Christopher Guest. Instead it plays more like an overly long episode of The Office. From the seventh season.
A good premise and a few decent jokes can only take you so far, I suppose.