If you re-animate, he’ll emancipate.
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov
Stars: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, and Rufus Sewell
MPAA Rating: R
Alternate History is a curious sub-genre of fiction. What is it within us that is fascinated by witnessing historical events from a different, speculative perspective? Whatever that desire may be, novelist Seth Grahame-Smith took advantage of it and combined it with the public’s love affair with vampires when he gave us ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. It was only a matter of time before Hollywood came along, and we now have the movie adaptation from producer Tim Burton and director Timur Bekmambetov.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER chronicles the life of Honest Abe from a boy who loved to write, to a shopkeeper studying law, and finally to a president who freed the slaves. Oh, and during all this, he moonlights as a vampire hunter, sworn to kill the monsters who altered his life forever when one of them killed his mother.
The biggest roadblock for this film is it’s lack of humor. The movie takes one of the United States’ most famous icons and turns him into a vampire slayer, and it does so whilst playing it very straight. It’s constantly throwing one preposterous notion after another at the viewer with no semblance of tongue-in-cheek or pulpy self-awareness. An unfortunate by-product of this tone is that a good amount of the film comes across as just plain dumb. However, it is difficult to not be somewhat impressed by it’s bewildering audacity. Everyone involved completely commits to the idea, and none of it comes across as phoned-in or cheap. It may be a misguided effort, but it is a sincere one.
The script, adapted by Grahame-Smith, ranges from moderately decent to flat-out awful. Lincoln’s early days of training to kill vampires, then graduating to killing them are mostly entertaining. It’s when he moves into politics and becomes president that the film slows down considerably and loses some of it’s charm. When the movie is not playing to historical accuracy, it follows typical action and monster movie clichés to a fault. The primary villain of the film, Adam, is standard fare and very boring, so the conflict never takes off in any meaningful way. Lincoln’s mentor and friends all follow stereotypical character arcs with absolutely no surprises. Finally, the romance between Abe and Mary Todd is terrible. Their exchanges involve some of the worst dialogue in the film.
Timur Bekmambetov is a director known for his strong visual flair, and he doesn’t disappoint with this film. There’s some very striking imagery and well-shot action sequences. The fight choreography is also extremely well-done, particularly in the climax of the film. Special mention must be given to two mind-bogglingly bizarre action beats, one involving a horse and the other a carriage, that will leave you somewhere between wanting to applaud wildly and wanting to shake your head in dismay.
Despite the script often working to their disadvantage, the cast is surprisingly good for the most part. Benjamin Walker is convincing as Abraham Lincoln, playing the part with a lot of conviction and earnestness. Dominic Cooper brings a lot of cool charisma as his mentor and trainer. As timeworn as their characters may be, Anthony Mackie and Jimmi Simpson still manage to make an impression as Lincoln’s friends and confidants. The two who suffer the most are Rufus Sewell as the aforementioned Adam and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd. Their performances aren’t bad, but they aren’t strong enough to overcome the atrocious writing related to their characters.
Three specific words were used during this review to describe ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, and they are the most accurate and succinct ways to sum up the opinion of this critic. The film is audacious, bewildering, and extremely dumb. A healthy sense of humor is the missing ingredient that stops it from becoming an instant cult classic. As it stands, it will dazzle and entertain you, but it will also leave you in befuddled awe of it’s nonsensical silliness.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is now playing in theaters nationwide. It cannot be recommended for most, but it can be recommended for those willing to suspend disbelief enough to see a moronic film involving a historical figure decapitating vampires with an ax.
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