Aaliyah Rocks; Costner Cracks

Fans of Anne Rice’s florid, hysterically overwritten vampire chronicles will be gnashing their fangs with fury when they pile into Queen of the Damned , the ludicrous, trashy sequel to the dismal Interview with a Vampire . This time the lonely, handsome and doomed vampire Lestat-so depressed he’s been asleep for 100 years in a New Orleans cemetery-finally awakens to the sound of the movie’s ghastly soundtrack CD and becomes a flamboyant rock star. As his fame spreads across the world, his music also awakens the anorexic Queen Akasha (Aaliyah), who has been snoozing for centuries in a crypt under the Arctic ice. The mother of all bloodsuckers is so turned on by the ear-splattering garbage she hears that she decides to make Lestat her immortal lover.

All he wants, he says, is fame and a good night job. All she wants, she says, is Hell on Earth-which is pretty much what this film delivers. Everything leads to an elaborate concert in Death Valley (so much for humor, although the rest of the film is an unintentional howler, too) with hormones and jugulars pulsing. No sex, please, they’re vampires; they all hiss like radiators, but apparently vampires are impotent. Do not expect a happy ending-or a coherent one, either.

In the credits, various cast members are listed as “vampire guitarist,” “vampire groupies” and “vampire girl sucking.” It’s not a great career move. Meanwhile, the mystery of the ancient Egyptians’ secret language that has baffled vampire historians for years is finally solved: They all sound like Hungarians. Instead of Tom Cruise, the Irish actor Stuart Townsend plays Lestat without a trace of the clean-cut charm he displayed in About Adam . The only good thing that can be said for Aaliyah, the late R&B singer in bronze body paint who died before the movie was finished, is that her wig never falls off. Otherwise, the performances are so leaden, Michael Rymer’s direction is so bloodless and the dialogue is so corny that the audience laughs out loud. I don’t know about you, but I expect more from my horror movies than a bunch of 400-year-old vampires with dopey costumes and badass attitudes auditioning for a music video.

In The Fugitive , Sela Ward-the beautiful and talented star of ABC-TV’s Once and Again , the best weekly show on television (when you can find it)-was killed off in the first scene. In Dragonfly , her luminous and gifted television co-star Susanna Thompson is killed off in the first scene. Is this some kind of revenge against quality television?

But Ms. Thompson has the last laugh. Dead or alive, she’s the best thing in the movie. Dragonfly is about a prominent Chicago surgeon (Kevin Costner, bleary-eyed and looking pained), grief-stricken over the death of his pediatrician-oncologist wife (Ms. Thompson) in a bus accident while on a Red Cross mission in the jungles of Venezuela. Always obsessed with her dragonfly birthmark, she filled their house with dragonfly images. Now, in death, the dragonfly becomes a personal symbol of her spirit as the good doctor is convinced she’s trying to contact him from beyond the grave.

A mobile arrives in the shape of a dragonfly. A dragonfly paperweight spins out of control. Dragonflies flutter in the doors and windows. The children who survive near-death experiences at the hospital deliver secret messages about a waterfall and a rainbow. They all draw-you guessed it-dragonflies. What does it mean? Could she still be alive? Mr. Costner hops a private plane to find out and heads for the jungle, where he discovers more than he ever imagined in a near-death experience of his own. “I haven’t gone halfway to Heaven, and she has no way to reach me,” he whines. And this preposterous movie has no way to reach anybody else.

I won’t spoil the secret that’s revealed when Mr. Costner finally reaches that rainbow waterfall in a forbidden village of headhunters; I’ll simply say that medals for bravery will be earned by anyone who stays awake long enough to find out. The movie is supposed to be about trust, faith and the belief that things and events without scientific explanation can sometimes produce miracles. The only miracle here is that, after reading the moronic screenplay, so many fine actors (including Kathy Bates, Linda Hunt, Ron Rifkin and Joe Morton) were persuaded to lend their talents to a numbingly pretentious project under the hackneyed and rudderless guidance of Tom Shadyac, the man who directed Ace Ventura: Pet Detective , The Nutty Professor and Patch Adams . I don’t know what else to say, convinced as I am that the less said about Dragonfly , the better.

The tired sex comedy 40 Days and 40 Nights is nothing more than a lame vehicle for teen heartthrob Josh Hartnett. Its charms are infinitesimal, and so are his. This time, the introspective hunk from Pearl Harbor plays a disillusioned, broken-hearted Lothario who gives up sex for Lent. Since he’s never made a go of anything, his friends all bet he won’t last, while his ex-girlfriend plots to seduce him back into her bed to break his vow of celibacy. The rest of this pointless movie follows him through 40 days and 40 nights of abstinence as he fights off all temptations to kiss, touch, hug, fondle, fool around or even masturbate.

Does he succeed? You tell me; I exited this freshman fiasco before the 20th day. Mr. Hartnett should pay less attention to his paycheck and more attention to his career, before he turns into the brooding, thinking man’s Freddie Prinze Jr.

Shearing Does Tormé

George Shearing is the Walter Cronkite of jazz-trustworthy, reliable, distinguished and incomparable. In a rare club appearance at Feinstein’s at the Regency (through March 2), his status as elder statesman of the grand piano is undeniable as he pays a special tribute to his late, great friend, sometime collaborator and co-star, and fellow musical genius, Mel Tormé.

Dual television screens project both archival “stills” of the velvet crooner in every stage of his career-boy drummer, callow vocalist with the Chico Marx and Harry James bands, recording sessions with Marty Paich and Frances Faye, schmoozing at a table with June Christy, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee and Stan Kenton-and a show-stopping Bach-inspired “Pick Yourself Up” televised “live” from the JVC Jazz Festival. From the Baldwin, Mr. Shearing dazzles with a wide repertoire of songs associated with Mr. Tormé, from the singer’s own compositions like “Born to Be Blue” and “Welcome to the Club” (taken at an unusual fox-trot tempo), to swingers like “Lulu’s Back in Town” and Mr. Shearing’s own legendary “Lullaby of Birdland.”

The pianist employs as many varied styles and tempos as Mr. Tormé explored vocally, sings a chorus of “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” and even displays a wickedly self-effacing sense of humor when he relates a story about the time Mel gave him a cheese-grater and teased him that it was in Braille. “Remembering Mel” is a delicious gift itself, from one musical icon to another-not to mention a grand night on the town for music lovers from Harlem to Bowling Green, and everyone in between.