Fourscore? More like a score of two for "Abraham Lincoln"
Of all the crazy, nonsensical movie ideas to come out of Hollywood recently, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" (not to be confused with Spielberg's upcoming Lincoln biopic, though I doubt many will) is easily one of the most polarizing. After seeing the trailer, audiences split into two sides: those who think it's absurdly brilliant and those who think it's an idiotic use of one of history's finest leaders.
Personally, I'm happy to see writers starting to use my fifth grade notebook doodles for inspiration. Like my old grade school scribbles served as a shot of goofy fun during a dull lecture, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" could have provided the same ludicrous glee in a sea of generic action blockbusters. Instead, it's just as lifeless as the vamps Honest Abe is vanquishing.
The plot of the movie is nicely laid out in the title. Abraham Lincoln (played by relative newcomer Benjamin Walker) hunts vampires, preferably with an ax. He starts as a young man, clumsily hunting down the bloodsucker that murdered his mother.
After that early failure and some training from a friend (Dominic Cooper), Abe grows his reputation as an assassin and a politician, leading to his presidency and consequent struggle with the South, which was apparently filled with fanged demons. He proceeds to emancipate the slaves, as well as vampires' limbs from their bodies, in the hopes of saving the country.
Screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote the novel of the same name (as well as this summer's equally bloodless vampire saga "Dark Shadows"), helped birth the cultural phenomenon of historical hybrids with the 2009 novel "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." They seem clever, or at least enjoyable, on paper: combine something seemingly dry with a current pop cultural meme topic, and let the wacky hijinks ensue.
The film translation of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" struggles to bring the second part of the formula to the screen. The movie is surprisingly straight-faced with its preposterous story. Any comedy or fun to be had gets suffocated under the weight of its own seriousness. A dramatic approach could have worked if Grahame-Smith brought something new, but for the most part, Honest Abe's blood-soaked journey is a standard action tale with very few surprises to offer.
In fact, the film's assassin-in-training plot is very similar to Russian director Timur Bekmambetov's previous hit, 2008's "Wanted." Whereas that movie rode its sleek visuals and devotion to absolute ridiculousness (including two perfectly placed profanities from the saintly Morgan Freeman) to entertaining success, Bekmambetov fails to incorporate the same energy in his second American effort.
He finds a bit of life in the action scenes, which are the few moments where "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" comes through on the concept's promise of joyful absurdity. The former president leaps and spins in the air like an Olympian ice skater, and during one extended chase scene, a horse is used as a weapon.
Even during those sequences, however, Bekmambetov's usually keen visual flair dampens the audience's excitement. The main problem is an overabundance of fog, smoke and dust. The movie's climax, a battle on a train, is clogged with smoke, wasting the inherent heart-racing sense of speed. For most of the other action scenes, it's equally disorienting.
Bekmambetov extends his smoky aesthetic into the dramatic moments as well. The goal is to capture an old-time dated feel, but the end result just emphasizes the sleepy drabness of the script.
The cast of no-names is enjoyable but doesn't add much color or spirit to the proceedings. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who played the delightfully droll Ramona Flowers in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," is a pleasant screen presence but is given little to do, which can also be said for Rufus Sewell's villainous Adam. Walker also does decently in the title role, though as young Lincoln, he looks more like Liam Neeson: Vampire Hunter.
Combined with the action, they add enough to make the movie entertaining in spurts, but for the most part, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" is just as dreary as the history lessons it attempts to enliven. Here's to holding out for "Franklin Pierce: Ninja Assassin."
Theaters and showtimes for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
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