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How can a movie starring Ice-T as a Prohibition-era vampire be boring?

Home Video Hell is where filmic outcasts—straight-to-video, straight-to-VOD, or barely released—spend eternity.

The condemned: Bloodrunners

The plot: A strange amalgam of period piece and dorm-room bet that must have been lost, Bloodrunners is a genre mashup that makes both genres less fun than strange. Hang on, because this is a messy one: Crooked cop Jack Malone is part of a police force that profits from shaking down all the speakeasies in a small town that goes forever unnamed (or if it is, I missed it—the sound mixing in the film is almost shockingly bad, but more on that later). It’s 1933, which we know because characters keep starting sentences with the phrase, “Hey, it’s 1933...” But a new joint in town gets Jack suspicious—a place called Chesterfield’s, which Jack, using his detective wiles, figures out is actually run by the bandleader, whose name is... Chesterfield. The usual shakedown routine goes awry, and after cops are killed by thugs who turn out to be vampires (bootlegging blood in bottles, hence the title), Jack starts a mission to take out the bloodsuckers.

Oh, and there’s also an entire subplot about a young man named Willie and the girl he loves, Anna, trying to get enough money so they can get out of town and get married. Anna’s mom Rosie is head of the town whorehouse, see, and disapproves of her child settling down with some kid who might not be able to provide for her daughter very well. Oh, and because this film never met a storyline it couldn’t complicate, Rosie is old friends/romantically involved with Jack, and often takes care of him when he shows up drunk and/or depressed from memories of the Great War. (Which we’re treated to gauzy images of, in flashback.) And this doesn’t include a ranting preacher who may know the truth, a kidnapping narrative involving Chesterfield’s blood-running plan, and a blackmail plot with Willie. It’s... a lot to take in. Exhausting, you might say.

Over-the-top box copy: There’s literally not a single line of copy on the Blu-ray box. The back of it just provides a plot summary that refers to the film as an “action thriller,” which is apparently as bold of a claim as anyone felt comfortable making about this movie.

The descent: Bloodrunners was recently released to home video and streaming, with all the fanfare befitting its release. (Read: We got an email.) From all appearances, this looks like a film made on the (very) cheap that’s getting its profile boosted thanks to the supporting turn by Ice-T. It’s the kind of thing that will almost certainly turn up on Showtime’s voluminous list of on-demand low-budget nonsense. If IMDB is to be trusted, the film’s budget was under $200,000, so it deserves some credit for actually getting a few period-appropriate cars in an honest effort to try and create the feel of a much bigger movie. That said, a lot of the set design resembles a college theater’s production of a play set during the roaring ’20s.

The theoretically heavenly talent: Let’s be honest: We’re watching this thing because Ice-T is in it, playing a vampire who runs a speakeasy and wails on the trumpet. That sounds tailor-made for a trashy good time, and was what got us interested when we posted the trailer last year. Michael McFadden is listed as the other top-billed actor, but his next biggest credit appears to be as “Gangster” on an episode of Gotham.

The execution: This is not a good movie. Unfortunately, it’s also not a good bad movie, which was the hope here. Bloodrunners wants to be both silly vampire flick and hard-bitten tough-guy throwback, and comes up short on both. But that’s not the worst crime. The movie’s biggest failing is its total wasting of Ice-T in a role that could’ve been played by just about anyone. Aside from a promising opening scene that finds him leading a jazz group on stage, with panache and finger snaps that don’t quite match the sound mix, it largely involves him appearing for 30 seconds at a time to say vaguely menacing things until the final showdown, where he delivers a standard-issue villain monologue about his evil plan. He doesn’t even get to reference “Cop Killer,” for god’s sake, and that would be a gimme. Still, even if the production could only afford him for a day or two, it should have given him the sort of flashy, campy dialogue into which the Law And Order: SVU actor, rapper, podcaster, and generally delightful personality could’ve sunk his teeth (apologies for the pun). Instead, it gives him one early scene of cutting off a finger, followed by lots of exposition (including one of those “it’s 1933” lines) and a finale in which he barely gets to engage in any action at all. Those looking for a scenery-chewing good time are stuck with “close but not quite ridiculous enough” scenes like this:

I want to bring up the poor quality of the sound mix again—not to dump on this film, but to wonder if perhaps it was an intentional decision on the part of someone who noticed that certain plot points would make almost zero sense if the sound functioned like it does in the real world. Take this scene: Jack and his fellow corrupt cop are sitting in Chesterfield’s, scoping out the place for its potential as another joint they can shake down for money as part of the force, something universally acknowledged by folks in the film as the cost of doing business. There’s someone being beaten by Chesterfield’s goons, and despite the relative quiet, nobody—not even Jack’s partner—notices what would’ve been a very loud dragging of a terrified man literally mere feet behind him. But if you take the sound mix at face value, plus also shut off your critical thinking faculties, it almost makes sense.

There are a few things that make it entertaining, though they tend to be infrequent. Most of the things that are initially funny fade quickly, like the tactic of having obviously bad rear projection for any driving scene. But sometimes there’s pleasure to be found in the blunt coarseness of the project, like the softcore porn level of quality in the dialogue. (Sample exchange: “It’s 2 a.m.” “Then it’s early, no?” “What are you, a lawyer now?”) Speaking of soft porn, the first person we see bitten is a prostitute, chomped on mid-coitus by a vampire going down on her. And despite ambling his way agreeably through most of his short scenes, a few of Ice-T’s moments are fitfully entertaining. Still, it’s no Ice Loves Coco.

More confounding is the sheer amount of narrative the script ladles on, as though worried people wouldn’t be entertained unless there were at least five different subplots at any given moment. It’s how the viewer gets saddled watching young Willie’s evolution from uninteresting white-bread doofus to uninteresting white-bread doofus killing vampires. And the cops’ tough-guy shtick largely consists of acting like 14-year-olds puffing out their chests on a playground, and beating their prisoners senseless for reasons passing understanding. Most characters’ default setting seems to be, “Yell swears at someone for a while, then abruptly get calm and personable.” Which, to be fair, is a pretty close approximation of social behavior at a disturbingly large number of male-dominated corporate environments, usually involving finance. Bloodrunners is just not terribly fun, falling on the lesser side of the “Syfy movies quality-control yardstick,” which is a form of measurement we just made up. For what might be the first time ever, it’s appropriate to use the phrase, “I expected more from the writer of Ninja Babes From Space.”

Likelihood it will rise from obscurity: There’s a slim chance that in the post-apocalyptic near-future world in which all facts have been discounted as fake, this film will endure as an historical document of the time in the early 20th century when wooden-seeming men fought vampires, and all women were either prostitutes, vampires, or daughters of prostitutes.

Damnable commentary track or special features? There’s a short gag reel, a number of deleted and extended scenes which were blessedly excised, and a commentary track from the director Dan Lantz and star McFadden. McFadden is genial, letting Lantz do most of the talking, but much of it is nuts-and-bolts explanation about indie filmmaking. Still, there are some funny moments, such as when Lantz is discussing his desire for exacting ’20s-era accuracy, except for the women’s hair, because “the women were having short hair cuts... and [Clears Throat.] the reality of it is I didn’t like the way the short haircuts looked. So, there was this fine line we had to travel between being period accurate and still being something that someone in the 21st century would find enjoyable.” Fervent belief that moviegoers don’t enjoy short hair on women aside, Lantz seems like a nice guy who did his best with what he had, but just enjoys the look of late-night Cinemax films. Well, long hair, and late-night Cinemax films.