Friday, June 22, 2012
Movie review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
A genre mash-up that's hardly any fun at all.
The title alone is enough to make you laugh: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (also showing in 3D). One in a series of genre mash-up books from author Seth Grahame-Smith -- who’s also written Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Unholy Night -- the story reimagines the life of Lincoln so that, along with his known history, he also took the time to kill the undead. The premises of his three books are so off-the-wall that Grahame-Smith has become a publishing phenomenon and now a sought-after screenwriter, writing both this and Tim Burton’s latest, Dark Shadows.
The film attempts to set up Lincoln’s vampire hunting ways as a lifelong obsession. Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) is shown to have kept a diary in which he chronicles an early attack on his mother. That attack fueled his thirst for revenge on Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), who -- unbeknownst to Lincoln -- is actually a vampire. Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), however, is well aware of this fact and takes Lincoln under his wing to train him properly. Part of this includes convincing Lincoln -- who, as we all know from history class, was a famed rail splitter -- to coat his ax with silver, supposedly the bane of all vampires.
Speaking of history, Lincoln purists may or may not be happy to hear that Grahame-Smith and director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) stay relatively true to actual events. Lincoln’s life isn’t wholly reinvented; it’s just augmented to allow for the possibility that he would hunt vampires. And so we see Lincoln’s rise from lowly shopkeeper to lawyer to politician to the presidency. None of the stops are given mere lip service, however; the film almost requires viewers to understand exactly who people like Stephen Douglas and Jefferson Davis were to fully enjoy it.
And therein lies the rub – between the darkness of vampire killing and chronicling of Lincoln’s life, there’s almost no room for any fun to creep in. A film with as ridiculous a title and premise as this almost requires a certain level of campiness, but there is little, if any, to be had. Bekmambetov and Grahame-Smith treat most of the film with a deadly seriousness – pun intended – lowering the entertainment value significantly. The killing of various enemies should have a cathartic feeling for both Lincoln and the audience, but they mostly come off as rote activities done merely because the story requires their presence.
Bekmambetov appears to have toned down his signature visual style a bit to accommodate the blending of history and action. There are still a few spectacular set pieces, most notably a final act sequence featuring a train racing across a burning bridge, but the mind-bending scenes he’s known for are almost non-existent. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t take a few liberties now and again; it’s highly unlikely that Lincoln possessed the pure strength and jumping ability he’s shown to have. And Bekmambetov does liven things up with copious amounts of blood, although he curiously mutes the color to black, lessening its shock appeal.
Walker is a fine stand-in for the 16th president; he even bears a striking resemblance to Liam Neeson, who was originally going to play Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming biopic (Daniel Day-Lewis will instead do the honors). He has a nonchalant yet earnest demeanor that serves the role well, and he handles the ax like a pro. Cooper is a star on the rise, and while this role doesn’t allow him to truly break out, he shows enough to deliver on his reputation. Other standouts include Rufus Sewell as Adam, the vampire leader, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln.
The exact audience for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is unknown. Horror fans will have to sit through a history lesson, while history buffs will have to endure multiple neck bitings. You have to give the filmmakers credit for even attempting to translate such a strange book to the screen. Unfortunately, success goes mostly unrealized.
For showtimes for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, click here.