Vampires vs. the Bronx

★★★★

I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty butthurt when I fired up “Vampires vs. the Bronx” on Netflix only to discover it’s PG-13. PG-13 horror?!!! Yeah, that’s gonna be a no from me, dawg. All that said I’m glad I stuck with it. The movie’s good enough that my dog ass tired wife who said she was gonna dip after a coupla minutes stayed up, stayed put and stayed engaged throughout the entire thing. This flick fits a lot of charm into its compact 85 minute package.

“Vampires” focuses primarily on three tween boys and the borough they call home. There’s Miguel Martinez AKA Lil Mayor (Jaden Michael), a community-minded kid who comes across like a Baby Barack Obama. There’s Bobby Carter (Gerald W. Jones III) who ran afoul of Father Jackson (Cliff ‘Method Man’ Smith, yeah, Meth’s playing a priest … lulz) for fighting and got himself thrown out of school. He’s now trying to resist the pull of street life in the form of Henny (Jeremie Harris). There’s Luis Acosta (Gregory Diaz IV), who’s back in the old hood from Tampa, Fla. to visit his Tia Maria (Socorro Santiago). Luis is the nerd of the group. He’s cleverly introduced reading a copy of Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” and is referred to as “Puerto Rican Harry Potter” by a gangbanger. The rest of the neighborhood is comprised of familiar faces such as Zoe Saldaña and Chris Redd (“Saturday Night Live”).

Miguel’s current project is saving the bodega run by Tony (Joel ‘The Kid Mero’ Martinez of “Desus & Mero”). Tony opened his doors and heart to the boys giving them a safe space to do homework and play video games. Many businesses in the neighborhood have been bought up by the shadowy Murnau Properties (a cool nod to “Nosferatu” director, F.W. Murnau) fronted by the pompadoured Frank Polidori (prolific character actor Shea Whigham – a performer my wife and I are so fond of that whenever he pops up in something (which is often) we exclaim in unison, “Shea!!!,” or one of us simply mutters, “Goddamn, Shea Whigham.”). Polidori is a familiar, the human face of the vampire-owned Murnau, and they have their sights set on the bodega.

“Vampires” feels like a hodgepodge of “The Lost Boys,” “The Monster Squad” and “Attack the Block” and is much more comedic than horrific (it’s produced by “SNL” mastermind Lorne Michaels), but it also has a lot on its mind. The movie is undeniably a condemnation of gentrification and the white supremacy that’s inherent to such practices. These blonde, lily-white vampires figure they can buy up the Bronx, set up shop and feed on its residents because no one cares about them … they’re nobodies. It’s also telling that when the boys run into Vivian (Canadian actress Sarah Gadon of “Cosmopolis” and “Enemy”), a seemingly kind white lady who’s new to the neighborhood, and she assures them that she won’t call the cops they retort with, “That’s what someone who’s about to call the cops would say.”

It’s refreshing to see a flick fronted by three kids of color where they’re not only decent – they’re smart, funny, compassionate and civic-minded. Kudos to co-writer/director Oz Rodriguez (a segment director on “SNL”), his co-scripter Blaise Hemingway and these talented child actors for producing content that will empower and represent underserved youngsters out there. Kids between the ages of 8 and 14 will lap this up like a suckhead would Type O Positive … kids at heart will too. This is essentially the woke version of an ‘80s Amblin movie. “Vampires vs. the Bronx” may lack blood and guts, but much like the Wolfman, it’s got nards.

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