I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER. I hadn't actually read the book (or PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, or any of the other fad "mashup" success stories) but I had a chance to look it over backstage a couple of years ago and knew that it wasn't anything like a camp-fest: the outrageous historical fiction would, indeed, be played straight.
Well, there's playing it straight, and then there's playing it like any one of a hundred martial arts movies you've seen (despite, of course, the novelty of the Civil War setting). Young boy loses mother to nasty villain. Young boy swears revenge, but finds himself hopelessly unprepared... until a "master" arrives to put him through intense, specialized training (which, in this case, seems to take young Abe less than ten minutes) and, hopefully, show him the correct mental attitude and spiritual path...
Okay, it's Lincoln, but it's still sheer, uninspired formula. Nevertheless, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER starts off with plenty of zip and has a lot working in its favor, especially its cast. You'd buy Benjamin Walker as Abe Lincoln in anything; Dominic Cooper is good fun as Harry (the aforementioned "master"); and Rufus Sewell is dependably villainous (not that he's asked to truly prove himself in the arena of challenging acting). And, well, you can't go wrong by casting Mary Elizabeth Winstead (as Mary Todd in this case).
Sorry--aside from invoking the title of the film, I haven't even mentioned VAMPIRES. Yes, they're around, and they provide the film's best moments in the first half: Abe's first attempt to avenge his mother is quite well-played, and there's a terrific action/horror setpiece that starts in a pharmacist's office to look forward to...
...but when Abe finally catches up with the vampire he most WANTS to kill, somehow the scene becomes an overwrought CGI spectacle filled with hundreds of stampeding horses. Yeah... and the characters jump from horse to horse, and the vampire even throws a horse at Abe... umm... why are we suddenly watching an Indiana Jones movie?
No, no... oh, PLEASE no... it gets worse. We're not watching an Indiana Jones movie. We're watching yet another MATRIX movie, as it turns out. Director Timur Bekmambetov (the Russian NIGHT WATCH/DAY WATCH) has apparently requested a name change to "Wachowski." Words cannot describe how utterly, horridly SICK I am of SLOW MOTION BACKFLIPS AND SOMERSAULTS.
For the record, I saw this in 2-D and was told by all interested parties to avoid the crummy 3-D conversion. There WERE an abundance of dusty, dingy brown-tinted scenes (especially the horse stampede I alluded to earlier), but I seem to have caught a print with sharper image quality overall than what some others have reported.
Well, again, the critics who have stuck up for this movie (both Ebert and LaSalle among them) seem most impressed by the fact that it isn't a spoof and that it shows them some things they've never seen before (Confederate vampire soldiers preparing to wipe out the North at Gettysburg, for instance). The setting itself WAS well-created, and there are elements of the film that I enjoyed, but I found myself wondering what, for instance, Generals Lee and Grant had to say about the vampire business while I was treated instead to "the bridge is burning, the train is falling, everybody jump, jump, JUMP!!!"
The last ten minutes of Hammer's first Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing Dracula film remain far more exciting than ANY of ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER.
Oh, and what a stupid epilogue, by the way.
Okay, Tim Burton, that's two vampire flops in a row with your name attached to them. Think about it.
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