10:44 AM EDT, June 21, 2012
The first in what I dearly hope is a trilogy to include "Calvin Coolidge: Exorcist" and "George W. Bush: Werewolves Is Comin'," the frenzied and occasionally diverting mashup"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" rewrites American history so that the Civil War becomes a war between humans from the North and bloodsucking fiends on the Confederate side.
Big Abe wields a bloody, righteous ax here, an ax that conceals a mean shotgun, able to plug a silver bullet into a vampire's skull. Or an eye. It's cooler in the eye.
There are many beheadings and throat-slicings, and director Timur Bekmambetov was the hack behind the assassination lark "Wanted," which couldn't get enough bullet's-eye-view shots, repeated here. And then repeated. Followed by some repetitions of the same.
A 3-D attraction, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" makes full and morally dubious use of the format, starting with the first big "wow!" shot: a slave owner's whip cracking against the cheek of a preteen slave boy's cheek. A terrible sight, but the way it's photographed, it's also meant to be a nifty image in cinematic terms. And therefore indefensible.
Adapting his own richly embroidered novel, which is a lot more fun than the movie, Seth Grahame-Smith (who also wrote "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies") strips his book for parts and ditches the most interesting cockamamie detail and context. Straight from his rock-star portrayal of another U.S. president in the Broadway musical "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," Benjamin Walker is Lincoln, who as a boy learns his life's calling. His mother dies horribly at the fangs of the vampires. He swears vengeance, and nearly dies in an attempt to avenge that death. But the mysterious Henry, played by a movie-saving Dominic Cooper, intervenes, takes care of business, explains the vampire lore to Abe, leads him in a training montage and joins him in a lifelong quest to prevent the United States of America from tilting toward the undead.
It sounds fun. It's a little fun. For a while. But Bekmanbetov shoots every killing spree like an addled gamer, working that slow-down-speed-up kill-shot cliche like a maniac. The actors, most of whom have a wry sense of humor (Rufus Sewell is good as Adam, the granddaddy vampire), contend throughout with a director with no sense of humor at all, only a sense of flip excess.
And honestly, the movie looks terrible. For every medium or long shot in anything resembling sunlight (though this is largely an animated film, given the amount of green-screen effects), the digital zizz of the image looks like a dupe of a dupe of a dupe. This isn't "period" style; it's just sloppy.
I did enjoy a few things, though. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the dishiest-ever version of Mary Todd Lincoln. There's a slo-mo strut toward the camera performed by Walker's Lincoln that is genuinely funny. And I adore the nutty hypocrisy of the voice-over that begins and ends the film (meant to be torn from the pages of Lincoln's secret vampire-hunting journal), the line referring to how history prefers "soaring speeches to quiet deeds." This, in a splattery diversion that has no time for either.
'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' -- 2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for violence throughout and brief sexuality)
Running time: 1:45
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