Jul 11, 2012|
(USA) Action/Fantasy. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov. Starring Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell. Category IIB. 105 minutes. Opened Jul 5.
Why has there never been a film about a US president slaying vampires? This one will give you a good idea. Based on true events—sorry, I mean, Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2010 novel of the same name—“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is a genre mash-up with an audacious and fun-sounding title that it ultimately betrays. Incorporating a fictional account of Honest Abe’s secret life as a vampire hunter into a history lesson on the Civil War, the story is meant to inspire witty irony and dark humor, but the tongue-in-cheek joke didn’t seem to be gotten by director Timur Bekmambetov, whose dead serious, bloody boring screen version cries for a silver bullet in its head.
Those who believe there was some noble cause behind the Civil War need to get ready for a moment of truth: it all happened because of Abe’s personal vendetta against the undead. See, as a boy, Abe loses his mother to slave-trading vampire Barts (Marton Csokas) after defending his black friend Will. And years later, the protagonist—now a tall and lanky young man (Benjamin Walker)—seeks revenge. He learns vampire-slaying skills from his mysterious mentor Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), and extends his hatred towards his mother’s murderer to the entire blood-sucking race, which uses slavery to maintain a steady food supply. His weapon of choice? A silver-bladed axe. Between his humble job at an Illinois grocery store and his law studies, Abe kills vampires at night, becomes pals with store owner Speed (Jimmi Simpson), reunites with Will (Anthony Mackie) and even makes some time to steal Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, way too pretty for this role) from local politician Stephen Douglas, eventually marrying her.
And there goes Henry’s hunter policy of “no friends or family,” as well as Abe’s ax-wielding days—the hero sees that the political path is a more efficient way to abolish slavery and eliminate vampires. The second half of the film weaves into the picture the 16th President of the USA’s real-life career highlights such as the Lincoln-Douglas debates (it’s never clear whether the creepy-looking Douglas is himself a neck-biter). Following his election, President Lincoln wages war against the Confederacy, but on the opposing side, New Orleans-based arch-vamp Adam (Rufus Sewell) allies with Jefferson Davis in a sinister plan to dominate the nation.
Bekmambetov is an old hand at vampire and action movies. Before his Hollywood debut “Wanted,” the Kazakh auteur made his name directing Russian productions “Night Watch” and “Day Watch.” However, not a trace of all that experience and the visionary style shown in his previous works can be found in “Abraham Lincoln.” The vampires here look more hideous than scary; the sinfully monotonous action sequences become numbing after the first 10 minutes; and the insipid slo-mo can send you straight into snooze mode. A chase-and-fight scene during a horse stampede is imaginative, but the dirt-covered frame hardly allows you to see what’s going on. That’s not to say the rest of the film is any brighter. Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel opted for a sepia palette, which is fitting for antebellum America, but the never-changing drabness—worsened by the dimming 3D glasses—makes the film visually wearisome.
To add insult to injury, the screenplay, adapted by Grahame-Smith himself, is utterly lifeless, complete with two dozen plot-holes. (If vampires can become invisible at will, why would they ever reveal themselves in a fight?!) The straight-up drama deprives the film of all the potential knowing gags. Towards the end, Lincoln gives the Gettysburg Address in a scene that basks in an aura of gravitas, propelling the film into a whole new level of “C’mon!”-dom. The only redemptive element here is probably Walker, who tackles an alternative presidential role for the second time after headlining Broadway rock musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.” Sadly, his screen debut as a leading man isn’t worthy of the actor’s talent or physical resemblance to Lincoln. “History prefers nobility over brutality,” or so goes a saying Abe solemnly reads out of his journal (twice!). If that’s true, then hopefully this brutally daft movie will be forgotten as soon as possible.