Friday, June 22, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Review

Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

I never thought I would say this about “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (an adaptation of a bestselling book by Seth Graham Smith) but if it had been longer, I think it would have been better. Early on, it was reported that the movie had a running time of about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Now, I know what you’re going to say: What? That’s way too long a running time for a movie called “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” and before seeing it I would have said the same thing. But if the movie had been 2 hours and 45 minutes the story would be more complete, the characters more established. Making for at least a decent semi-revisionist history film.

However, the way it is now, at a running time of 105 minutes the picture is a muddled and chaotic mess. It’s also a visual eye sore, the use of CGI is hideous. In the opening scene we get an overhead shot of a computer generated Washington D.C that looks like a cheap graphic used in a History Channel doc.

The movie begins when Lincoln is just a boy, and a vampire kills his mother because his father couldn’t pay off a debt to his ex-employer (who is also a vampire). Fast-forward several years, Lincoln is now in his young adulthood and is played by Benjamin Walker (who’s only had minor roles up to this point). Lincoln is ready for some vengeance but he doesn’t know that he’s after vampires.

That’s where Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) comes in, a vampire who is mad at his fellow vampires for killing his wife. So he takes Abe under his wing and teaches him how to kill using an ax. Apparently old Abe is a natural at killing vampires. All he requires is one day of training and all he does in that day is learn how to twirl his ax (because you know, that’s an important skill in killing vampires) and chop down one tree using his built up anger.

So next thing we know he’s getting kill assignments from Henry. (On a side note: Why is it that in vampire movies other than “Twilight” the vampires, when they feed, make their faces big and decrepit looking even though they look normal to begin with? It never seems to help them.) Along the way he meets his future wife, Mary (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), his old black childhood friend Will (Anthony Mackie) and others. One of the main issues with this picture is that director Timur Beckmambetov (“Wanted”) and screenwriter Graham-Smith stuff too much into one movie. They want to show us Lincoln’s origins, how he got to be a hunter but then they also want to flash forward to when he’s in office so, they can use the civil war as an excuse for the vampires to try and take over the world. They cram two massive storylines into one film.

The truth is, that this project was always going to have to fight an uphill battle. As good as the fans of Graham-Smith’s novel may think that book is, I don’t think mass audiences are going to want to see something like this. Like “John Carter” it’s not a well known subject or franchise. In that regard, I give Beckmambetov some credit for taking a chance. What he could have done with this material is make it more tongue in cheek and ham up the violence, so at the very least it could be a gory, entertaining guilty pleasure, much in the way Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete” was in 2010.

But “Abe Lincoln” wants to be taken seriously, for the most part. It wants us to believe that Lincoln was a vampire hunter and that he lost his mother and then young son. And that’s where the major problem lies. I don’t care if this is a made up story, the thought of Honest Abe taking an ax to a vampire’s head is something that’s extremely difficult to take seriously. Now, if the movie had been 2 hours and 45 minutes then Lincoln’s character would be more established. His struggle would be better defined. Therefore—within these boundaries—his motives for killing would be more believable. Beckmambetov could show more of Lincoln’s training, show more of Henry helping Lincoln use his built up anger to his advantage. Unfortunately, the way it is now, the story is too rushed and the characters are too thin to be taken for anything except parody or very light drama.

On top of that the movie isn’t one bit creative or exciting in its action. In “Machete,” Machete grabbed a man’s intestine out of his stomach and used it as a rope. In “Abe Lincoln” there’s no such creativity with any of the vampire killings. They’re stuck in the “Sherlock Holmes” (the Guy Richie remakes) school of slow motion fight scenes, which is cool the first time it’s used but Beckmambetov uses it every time to the point where it becomes repetitive real fast.

Walker, Cooper and the other actors do the best with what they have but it’s clear that this movie doesn’t really depend on actors…or well rounded characters for that matter. Beckmambetov and crew only seem to care about the action and moving the story along. I guess they thought Abe Lincoln would speak for himself. But with a story as ridiculous as this, having a guy strap on a beard and top hat and doing some cliché Lincoln stuff isn’t enough character development.


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