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MOVIE REVIEW

In third installment,'Blade' lacks fresh blood

New vampire fighterscan't save dull 'Blade'

One of the prime laws of the multiplex states that any action or horror movie series will devolve into ritualized violence, self-mocking camp, and egregious silliness by part three. "Blade: Trinity" is right on schedule.

The third big screen installment of the Marvel comic book about a half-breed vampire (Wesley Snipes) going medieval on full-breed vampires is an unholy mess: underlit, overedited, with a glum star and about three too many story lines. Yet the audience I saw it with had a rollicking time because "Trinity" steadfastly refuses to take itself seriously. This is bad news for true believers -- hard-core comics fans are not known for their senses of humor -- but it helps everyone else pass the time.

The original "Blade" (1998) was a surprise commercial hit, and Guillermo del Toro's "Blade II" (2002) was an inspired sequel, dead from the punctured neck up but visually breathtaking. With del Toro sidetracked by "Hellboy" and its in-the-works sequel, it's time for David S. Goyer, screenwriter on the first two films, to step behind the camera. He shouldn't quit his day job.

Right from the start we know we're in for a . . . special experience, because among the gang of bickering, blood-hungry vampires is actress Parker Posey, usually seen trailing her contempt for humanity across low-budget, Sundance-type indies. For this project she has donned fangs and the contact lenses of the undead, but, truth be told, Posey doesn't look all that different, and her snippy impatience seems to apply to the script as well as to her fellow bloodsuckers.

They've banded together to exhume the original vampire, a centuries-old demon who is alternately and confusingly called Dagon, Dracula, or Drake. The last name is most appropriate, since actor Dominic Purcell exudes all the bone-chilling menace of a second-string nightclub bouncer.

Blade, meanwhile, continues to fight the good fight against the legions of vampires, beating them down until they burst into CGI flameouts. The police are convinced he's a serial killer, though, and his mentor, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), a tech whiz who looks like a homeless guy, is nearing retirement.

Snipes punches the clock here, going through the wire-work somersault motions but delivering his hokey dialogue in a basso profundo drone. The character barely seems to show up for his own movie, really, and it's the appearance of another band of vampire fighters that gooses "Blade: Trinity" into life. They're led by Whistler's daughter, Abbie (Jessica Biel, from TV's "7th Heaven"), but the life of the barbecue is Hannibal King, a smart-mouthed scaredy-cat slacker played by Ryan Reynolds as if he were Shaggy with brains or Bob Hope in the wrong century. Reynolds doesn't do anything he didn't do in "National Lampoon's Van Wilder" -- i.e., he fires snotty wisecracks at everyone and everything -- but thank God he does, or the movie would be a wake.

As it is, "Trinity" throws in goofball cameos by everyone from monologist Eric Bogosian to actress Natasha Lyonne, the latter as a blind scientist who is miraculously able to somehow surf the Internet. Wrestling fans will be happy to see Paul Michael Levesque, a.k.a. Triple H, as a cackling vampire pal of Posey's, and there are a variety of antivampire weapons designed to quicken the heartbeat of adolescent boys. The same goes for Biel's shower scene, which must have been contractually stipulated.

For all the tap-dancing, this is the same old same old, right down to a crucial plot twist stolen wholesale from "The Matrix." Posey and Reynolds are ringers hired to liven up a dull party, but even they can't infuse this outing with fresh blood. With "Blade: Trinity," dawn has come and the party's over.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com.

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