Stop me if any of this seems familiar: Johnny Depp wears makeup and an odd costume to play a quirky man with an accent. Tim Burton directs a movie chock-full of pale skin and lackluster melodrama. The world is round. Two and two makes four.
Dark Shadows, to put it another way, is predictably terrible. It is not a good movie, nor is it a good adaptation of the gothic soap opera on which it's based. The characters are trite, the plot tells only the vaguest semblance of a story, and when all else fails – which is often – the script pathetically paws for attention with anachronistic jokes and ribs about women's rights. Just when it seems that Dark Shadows can't possibly sink any lower – because there's absolutely no way that there can be anything worse than a joke about a vampire mistaking McDonald's golden arches for a shrine to Mephistopheles – a 63-year-old Alice Cooper shows up pretending to be 24-year-old Alice Cooper.
Even Twilight had the decency to not do that.
Here's the gist: Barnabas Collins (Depp) is the son of a wealthy couple who emigrated from England to establish an 18th century fishing empire in Maine. Barnabas runs afoul of a witch named Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) after their affair goes sour, so as witches are wont to do, she curses the Collins name. Barnabas's parents are killed, his true love (Bella Heathcote) jumps off a cliff, and a spell turns him into a vampire. To add insult to accursed injury, Angelique and a torch-bearing mob then bury the newly vampiric Barnabas in a casket.
Courtesy of a team of witless construction workers, Barnabas breaks out in 1972 to find the family business stagnant, his mansion in disrepair, and Angelique alive and kicking. After convincing the Collins matriarch, Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), to take him in, he sets about to restore the family name with the likes of a sullen teenage girl (Chloë Moretz), her traumatized cousin David (Gulliver McGrath), his scumbag father Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), an in-house doctor (Helena Bonham Carter), and David's governess (Heathcote, doing double-duty) who bears an eerie similarity to Barnarbas's lost love.
Most of this will sound familiar to anybody who watched the original Dark Shadows, a delightful forerunner to the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. While that soap trafficked in unintentional camp, though, Burton's Shadows guffaws, serving up ham-fisted ironies about The Way We Lived in the 1970s. It's not just an ill-conceived movie – as previously demonstrated by Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Burton doesn't have the faintest idea of how to adapt.
An adaptation goes one of two ways: It can riff on an existing story to deliver an inspired, but unique, message; or it can be a lame retread that neither explores nor does justice to its source material. The former is exemplified by The Godfather. The latter, by anything Burton and Depp have done together in the last 15 years. They pick a story, Burton lets Depp do his ''weird guy wearing makeup'' shtick, and then they kick back to watch the cash flow in. (Believe it or not, Alice and Charlie grossed more than $500 million.)
Once upon a time, Burton made weird, great movies that captured the worst parts of loneliness with sardonic quirk. Whatever spark inspired Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas, though, has long gone cold. Dark Shadows is just another nail in his artistic coffin, a stark reminder that talent begets style, but style doesn't guarantee quality. It all reminds me – despite my strong wishes to forget the movie entirely – of a pep talk Elizabeth gives to Barnabas: ''You fought on! In your own crazy and miserable way, you fought on!''
If we could only be so lucky, Burton wouldn't be doing the same.