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Mean girls have claws ...and pointy teeth, too

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The various young blood suckers of Vampire Academy belong to warring clans with a royal family; some are appointed as "guardians" of those royals. They use silver daggers to kill each other and have varying degrees of sensitivity to the harsh light of day.

And just in case there's still confusion: "They don't sparkle, either."

It's a self-aware horror/action comedy, first in a possible franchise (sigh) based on Richelle Mead's books, that sits somewhere on the border between Twilight, Harry Potter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Jokes? They bought those in bulk. Line after somewhat amusing line, most of them delivered in a near-slurred blur by the snarky half-human novice guardian Rose, played by Suite Life alumna Zoey Deutch.

"The stakes are high -- get it?"

Rose is guarding Lissa (Lucy Fry), who is a princess, so naturally she has a British accent. They're bonded, those two. Telepathic.

Rose and Lissa have been on the run from school, but St. Vladimir finally nabs them and brings them back...

Wait, "Saint" Vladimir?

That's right. Mead's books have student vampires learning of their patron saint, hearing Eastern Orthodox-ish sermons in chapel, in between the usual instances of high school hazing, mean-girl nastiness and makeout sessions. And managing one's magic.

Gabriel Byrne is an elder-something-or-other at the school, Joely Richardson is the scolding queen who lords over them and Olga Kurylenko the headmistress who "could have been a model."

Set in Montana, filmed in the U.K.'s castle-country, the school is the only place Lissa can be protected from the Strigoi, evil vampires who want to interrupt the royal line.

Tedious as all this vampire exposition is (and there's a lot), the jokey tone here is much appreciated, with everyone "a few corpuscles shy of an artery" and the action as predictable as "a porcupine in a hot tub."

Deutch tends to rush her lines, but a leggy, sitcom-trained 18-year-old is what the role called for -- the sort of girl who can make an "Ewww" face after handing the princess a tissue to wipe off blood from a "feeder," a human vampire fan who submits to the occasional neck-suck to keep the pale ones in the pink.

Sexy, PG-sassy, flip and funnier than it has a right to be, written by Daniel Waters (Heathers) and directed by his brother Mark (Mean Girls), Vampire Academy still feels slapdash, perhaps under-budgeted -- sort of a hit-or-miss, low-risk trial balloon to see if "Twilight Fever" has indeed, faded. We'll know by sunrise.

-- McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2014 G9

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