Vincent Perez - who replaces the late Brandon Lee in the controversial sequel to the Crow - is having a little double trouble.

It's a role most actors would kill for - the starring role in a splashy summer sequel with a built-in cult audience.  Only problem:  this particular role has been known to kill back.

So when Vincent Perez, the incredibly charming Swiss-born star of The Crow sequel, stopped by recently, the interview began on a black note. Neither he nor the producers of The Crow: City of Angels - stressing City of Angels in his slightly flustered English - were trying to replace Brandon Lee, who died in an accidental shooting during the filming of the 1994 original.

"It's a different character," he says, staring at us with the intensity of a hypnotist (or a European).  "Competely."

But with the Internet already abuzz with speculation, gripes and weird Brandon Lee prayers from anxious Crow fans, the question just won't go away.   "Who is Vincent Perez and how could he take on such a notorious role?"

On the one hand, actors have successfully reinterpreted highly franchised characters before (Val Kilmer's Batman, for instance).  On the other, there's clearly something more untouchable and angst-provoking about The Crow.  Here's a look at some of the debates in which Perez is embroiled.

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LEE

VS.

PEREZ

In some ways, Brandon Lee was a cult figure waiting to happen.   Unlike Perez, he came to The Crow with a death-tinged pedigree that seemed to destine him for the role.  At the time, he was pigeonholed as a minor actioni-hero, considered lucky to costar opposite Dolph Lundgren's 1991 Showdown in Little Tokyo.   His outstanding characteristics were an intense need to succeed, a pumalike agility and a rather weird sense of his own mortality, all of which fed into his performance - and the cult of his untimely death.

When he signed on for The Crow, Brandon was trying to escape from the shadow of his father, actor/martial actor Bruce Lee, whose sudden deeath (while filming Game of Death) in 1973 has spawned all kinds of loony tales of Chinese sorcery, narcotics andintrigue.

Brandon, who owned a vintage Cadillac hearse, often rambled on about death and dying.  An excerpt from his last interview:

"Because we do not know when we will die, we got to think of life as an inexhaustible well, and yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really... How many more times will you watch a full moon rise?   Perhaps twenty, and yet it all seems limitless."

Lee (then 28) was killed on March 31, 1993, in a Carolco studio in Wilmington, North Carolina.  The tip of a "dummy" bullet (a nonexplosive fake used to film close-ups of a firearm being loaded) was accidentally left in a prop gun.  On the fateful day, a blank was inserted in the same gun and "fired," propelling the dummy tip into Lee's body.

Though a highly publicized investigation followed (and rumors persist that Lee was murdered to "fulfill" the prophecy of Game of Death, a film starring his dad, Bruce Lee), no one was charged.

Crow mania predates the first film.  Artist James O'Barr created the best-selling Crow comic books in the early 1980s as a form of therapy after his girlfriend was murdered.  Inspired by sources as varied as Iggy Poop and Nathaniel Hawthorne, O'Barr took an established comic theme - the hero who avenges his loved ones' death - and added a dark, millennial twist: the hero himself is a goner.

Vincent Perez, if not destined to play The Crow, is an excellent choice, we think.  A classically-trained veteran of 15 European films, including the art-house hit, Queen Margot, he may not labor under a family curse, but he did knock off a crow as a child, and can give you the creeps when he does this thing with his eyes.   In fact, we feel kind of bad subjecting him to this whole (compare! compare!) business, because he's clearly his own man.  But you don't know that yet and you're wondering.

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WHY  VINCENT

IS AN

EXCELLENT

CHOICE

  • He's got this poised, alert, energy-coiled body that will work well with the vengeful crow motif.

  • "Perez seems to have a nice, haunted look about him without being too much like Brandon to cause discomfort."  (Matt on E-World)

  • He's mostly unknown in America - a forgivable stranger - unlike Jon Bon Jovi, who also vied for the role.

  • Women swoon at the sight of old Vincent. (Our photographer was having a bit of trouble maintaining her hand-eye coordination during the photo session.) This might expand the sequel's audience beyond goth-nerds.

  • He seems obsessed with catharsis, a very Crow-like person

  • Looks great in black.

AND CHARMING THINGS VINCENT DID IN OUR PRESENCE:

  • Try really, really hard to remember what they called Charlie's Angels on French TV.
  • Speak, with no hesitation, of his love for Jerry Lewis and not care a bit that we found this amazingly clichéd.
  • Interact dramatically with a stuffed crow.
  • Smoke in that cool European way.
  • Admit that the puffy pants they made him wear in Queen Margot looked pretty god awful.
  • Refuse to stop when we caught him tap-dancing with the stylist, Tiffany.
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THE ORIGINAL

VS.

THE SEQUEL

With over $50 million in domestic box office, the original Crow surprised a low of people, including its original distributor, Paramount, who dropped the movie after Lee's death.  Though this tragedy fueled the buzz, this dark tale got decent reviews - though mostly for its Munsters-meet-MTV look.

Perez, who let himself watch the movie only once, feels it sacrificed drama for violent thrills.  "The original comic book had less action," he says.  "The emphasis was on drama and a very difficult situation.  It made you face death."

The plot of the first Crow focuses on Eric Draven (Brandon Lee).  A Nine-Inchs-ish rocker, Eric and his girlfriend are murdered by four thugs one night.   On Halloween Eve one year later, Eric is resurrected by a crow, who's decided it's payback time.  Mysteriously, Eric has taken to wearing ghoulish pancake makeup while in the grave.  This helps him freak out the guilty thugs, whom he tracks done one by one (aided by his feathered psychic friend) and - with escalating ingenuity - executes.

SEQUEL:

Let's be perfectly clear:  Perez does not play Brandon Lee's role in The Crow: City of Angels.  He's a totally different dead guy named Ashe Corvin... Both films share MTV-trained directors, alterna-rock soundtracks and a fondness for Rocky Horror makeup...  It's more of a love story than the original.  Sarah was the little street kid  who hung out with The Crow in the first film.  Now all grown-up and played by Mia Kirschner (last seen befriending a pole as a stripper in Exotica), this is the only character carried over from the first film.  No surprise there: most of the characters were slaughtered.

INTERNET:

Months before the sequel's release, web sites sprang up with bulletin boards to let hard-core Crow fans fret and vent.  These are not mild-mannered people.   they use words like "blasphemy" and threaten to claw their "f*ckin eyes" out if Bon Jovi "ever, ever, ever" plays The Crow.  Regarding Vincent, their reactions range from outrage to pious indifference to grudging curiosity, though he does have his defenders.

According to O'Barr, The Crow isn't just one person, it is anyone who comes back to right a wrong. By making a sequel, Hollywood isn't destroying what Brandon helped to create, they are just perpetuating it. 

As Perez points out, O'Barr's comics unmistakably allow for more than one Crow.  But even if the sequel fizzles - if grassroots loyalty to Lee somehow snuffs it - the Internet squabbling will at least make Perez a name.

One to reckon with (we'll bet).

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