Friday, June 22, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Movie Review

Benjamin Walker stars in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Honest Abe: Clever Idea, Poor Execution

With a title like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, it wouldn’t be fair to cast aspersions on Timur Bekmambetov’s film adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2010 fantasy novel about Honest Abe and his battles with the undead: If nothing else, it’s an attention grabber in the first degree. Trouble is, good ideas are just that... ideas. You still have to make the movie, and Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Wanted) never seems to get a handle on things... Lincoln’s axe notwithstanding.

The premise of our 16th President chasing down vampires and chopping their heads off is admittedly hard to swallow, but once you get your head around it... it’s quite fantastic. Recruited by good-guy vampire Henry (Dominic Cooper) to rid the world of bloodsuckers (turns out there’s a rule against killing fellow vampires) Abe immediately takes to his new assignment with resolute passion ‘I tried to fortify the nerve to pursue my vengeance.’ That’s 19th century speak for “Vampires killed my Mom: I want revenge!”

After chopping down a tree, Abe is suddenly ready to slay vampires with impossible ease. His first kill is quite entertaining (his victim runs a sunblock lotion shop... clever) but after that, Abe takes out one accomplished Dracula after another at the drop of a (top) hat. How is this possible? With 1,001 vampire stories out there, surely folks realize killing one is no walk in the park? The impossible continues as Abe runs into future wife Mary Todd (delightfully portrayed by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who just happens to be dating Stephen A. Douglas at the time. After some friendly advice from best bud Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson) ‘This may be your last chance to save Mary Todd from a life of boredom’ Abe finds love... while keeping up his side-job ‘I’ve been working nights.’

As if killing vampires wasn’t hard enough, Abe stays busy studying the law and dabbling in politics. Along the way, he reconnects with childhood pal Will (Anthony Mackie) who needs help with some messy slavery issues (a resonating theme) that Abe is all too happy to help with. Cue “Way to go Abes” while Southern leaders (Jefferson Davis, Douglas) are shown saddling up with the vampires. Speaking of vampires... the bad ones are led by siblings Adam (Rufus Sewell) and Vadoma (Erin Wasson) who offer little to nothing as the film’s main protagonists. The only interesting vampire is Jack Barts (Marton Csokas) who kills Abe’s mother, thereby fueling her son’s thirst for vengeance.

Eventually, Abe puts away his axe, grows a beard and becomes President. The film shifts from light-hearted fun to CGI-driven doldrums in the blink of an eye. The big showdown at the end is downright dumb, offset by a complete breakdown of common sense and the laws of gravity. Speed wisely observes, ‘Something isn’t right about this, Abe.’ Truer words have never been spoken. Noticeable gaffes such as Abe’s recurring open eye/closed eye, and a bayonet stabbing through a soldier’s head (with Lincoln’s recital of the Gettysburg Address in the background) are downright laughable (but not in a good way.)

Benjamin Walker is convincing enough as Abe the young adult... not so much when he “dresses up” as the elder statesman later on. Cooper looks uncomfortable in the role of mentor (especially when he has to constantly look up at his student.) Mackie’s performance is throwaway at best, leaving Winstead to carry the film. Although up to task (she delivers the film’s best line, ‘I think common men are the best looking... That’s why God made so many of them) you can’t expect a bit player to drive a movie that’s equal parts CGI and preposterous.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter shows glimpses of humor, but can’t shake its campy foundation. 3D effects (flying bull whips, etc.) look cheap and frankly too easy. The book is definitively better. There’s likely some audience for this type of entertainment (teens, Twilighters) but not enough to change even likelier panning from critics like me. Let’s just hope those who like it, don’t mistake it for actual history.