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'Dark Shadows' avors visuals over story

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are snuggled warmly in their comfort zone in the chilly horror-comedy “Dark Shadows,” their eighth collaboration as director and star, respectively, and their weakest by far.

You don't need to know a thing about the late-'60s “Dark Shadows” TV series that provides the inspiration. Tonally, thematically, visually, you've seen this movie before, with its oddball characters, skies in varying shades of gray and a foreboding sense of gothic mystery. No one gets challenged here; no one gets pushed.

It's actually a wonder that Depp hasn't played a vampire before; still, his long-undead Barnabas Collins, who's been buried alive for nearly two centuries and suddenly finds himself back in his insular Maine hometown in 1972, fits squarely within his well-honed on-screen persona. He thinks he's quite the charmer, but he's actually a bit awkward, and that contradiction provides the main source of humor.

Or at least, it's supposed to.

The script from Seth Grahame-Smith (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”) allows its family full of weirdos to shine intermittently but they rarely interact with each other; each functions in his or her own self-consciously quirky bubble. Too often, “Dark Shadows” is crammed with hacky, obvious, fish-out-of-water gags, as Barnabas tries to make sense of this strange new world. He struggles to understand modern romance as he courts the family's delicate, wide-eyed nanny and hopes to fit in by smoking pot with the local hippies. And how is this tiny Karen Carpenter person singing to him from inside the television set? Ho ho!

At the same time, “Dark Shadows” feels too languid, bogged down as it is with an obsessive eye for period costumes (the work of Colleen Atwood) and interior details rather than offering anything resembling an engaging story. And by the time Burton finally puts his patented flair for visual effects to its best use, in a climactic showdown between Barnabas and the witch who cursed him (the va-va-voomy Eva Green), it's too late.

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 They love and they bluff 
Film takes a while to get going as it establishes all those characters and back stories,

but once there, it seems to have nowhere to go

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