“God help us all,” Christopher Plummer solemnly intones about fifteen minutes into “Dracula 2000.” It’s a sentiment with which anyone stumbling unawares into this dismal updating of the vampire myth can entirely sympathize. Under Patrick Lussier’s uninspired direction, the picture’s roughly the equivalent of one of those cruddy, direct-to-video horror flicks broadcast on the SciFi Network in the wee morning hours. Silly, incoherent and never in the least frightening, with flashes of attempted humor that can only be described as thoroughly puerile, it should certainly prove another cinematic nail in the old count’s coffin, as well as an embarrassment to horrormeister Wes Craven, who’s allowing his name to be used as its “presenter.”

The slumming Mr. Plummer plays Bram Stoker’s hero Abraham Van Helsing, who’s extended his life for more than a century by injecting himself periodically with revivifying doses of Dracula’s blood, which he keeps stored in a convenient collection of leeches. The poor doc’s had to keep himself alive in this unorthodox fashion, you see, because he’s guarding the corpse of Dracula, which he keeps locked in a coffin in a security vault in the basement of his London antique store (called “Carfax Antiques”–an example of the script’s oh-so-clever references to Stoker’s original). It seems that Van Helsing learned that while the vampires sired by Dracula could be disposed of with crosses and silver stakes, the count himself was invulnerable to these devices, and thus truly immortal; the best that could be done was to capture and imprison the monster in an impregnable prison until the means of his destruction could be discovered. Unfortunately, a group of singularly inept thieves, led by Solina (Jennifer Esposito) and Marcus (Omar Epps), break into the vault seeking riches and make off with the coffin. (It’s upon the discovery of its absence that Plummer utters the words of woe noted above.) Before long the count (Gerard Butler) has been released from captivity, and after munching his way through the crooks and an assortment of other unhappy souls, winds up in New Orleans (during Mardi Gras, of course), where he sets his sights on Van Helsing’s estranged daughter Mary (Justine Waddell), who suffers from visions of his coming. Fortunately for her, Van Helsing has also arrived on the scene to stop the count and his new minions, and he’s accompanied by stalwart Simon (Jonny Lee Miller), a youth he’s befriended and given a job, thus saving him from a life of wickedness. From this point on the plot becomes even more untidy and absurd; all one can say with certainty is that there are plenty of fights between the vampire hunters and their prey, and the whole mess winds up with the relevation–read no further if you don’t want to know the picture’s culminating surprise–that Count Dracula is none other than Judas Iscariot, saved from death when the rope with which he hanged himself broke. No wonder he’s had a grudge against Christ ever since for choosing him as his betrayer (and no wonder he has an intense dislike for Bibles, crosses, silver–remember the thirty pieces of it?–and all other things Christian). Nonetheless, it’s eventually demonstrated that the count isn’t indestructible after all: all that’s required is a giant neon cross, an electrical wire to serve as a noose, and the rays of the Easter sun. Thus by its end the scenario manages to become not only idiotic but blasphemous as well.

No cast could have survived, let alone saved, this shapeless mess of a script (it’s hardly surprising that writer Joel Soisson was also responsible for the impenetrable “Highlander: Endgame”), but the one assembled here proves especially inept. As Dracula, the young, fluffy-haired Butler looks like a frat boy with a cape and bad teeth; he exudes no menace or sexual attractiveness, and it’s unlikely that his reading of a line like “I never drink…coffee” will ever replace Lugosi’s classic formulation. Miller is pallid as the supposedly heroic Simon, and Waddell spindly and nondescript as Mary. (One hopes it’s meant to be humorous that, as an employee of a record megastore, she frequently wears a T-shirt that boldly proclaims “Virgin,” which, when joined to her name, has a distinctly religious connotation–as well as probably identifying her character’s condition. You can’t be sure, though, because blurbs for the Virgin stores are so frequent throughout the picture that it’s probably gone into the black via product-placement alone.) Esposito and Epps are unbelievably amateurish as the leaders of the gang that frees Dracula, and Colleen Fitzpatrick, Danny Masterson and Jeri Ryan camp it up all too strenuously as various of the count’s victims. As for Plummer, he tries but fails to retain a semblance of dignity as Van Helsing; it’s sad to watch him in such tripe after his brilliant turn as Mike Wallace in “The Insider” last year. Probably the luckiest performers on view here are Lochlyn Munro and Shane West; their characters die after only a few quick shots and are never revived as vampires.
To be fair, a bit of credit has to be given to the special effects team, who have pulled off a few clever moments, but most are unfortunately ruined by Marco Beltrami’s bombastic score.

“You have no idea what I have endured,” Butler’s master of the night groans to Mary late in “Dracula 2000,” referring to his two millennia of anguish. Actually, this movie is so bad that by its close viewers will have a pretty good notion of the kind of pain he’s supposed to have suffered. The only consolation rests in the date that’s part of the movie’s title: since 2001 is only a few days away, it at least suggests (prophetically, one hopes) that the picture’s shelf-life will be very short.