Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Rufus Sewell, Alan Tudyk, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead DIRECTED BY
Timur Bekmambetov SCREENPLAY
Seth Grahame-Smith MPAA RATING
Rated R RUNNING TIME
105 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY
20th Century Fox DVD EXTRAS
Audio Commentary with Writer Seth Grahame-Smith;Dark Secrets: Book to Screen
As absurd a title as is Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, it's actually quite surprising how straightforward a film writer Seth Grahame-Smith and director Timur Bekmambetov have created.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter may very well be one of Summer 2012's most anticipated films, at least among those films not already a franchise flick. Between Bekmambetov's flair for all things visual and an idea based upon Grahame-Smith's own writings that it practically screams out for cinematic adaptation, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is one of those films that seems destined to either be incredibly awesome or incredibly awful.
Strangely enough, it's almost smack dab in the middle.
In fact, the experience of watching Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter struck me a lot like the same experience I had while watching another highly anticipated flick, the Samuel L. Jackson film Snakes on a Plane. Snakes on a Plane took a killer idea (Literally!), a viral internet campaign and an awesome catch phrase and turned it into a highly anticipated film.
Then, it flopped. For whatever reason, the folks who helped the film go viral on the web just didn't show up in theaters. The film itself? It simply didn't live up to the hype.
It's difficult to tell if Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter will actually flop, though it's not exactly promising to have the film opening opposite the latest Disney/Pixar release, Brave. What is easy to tell, however, is that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is simply not the film it should have been.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter should have been a really fun film. It could have been a really fun film. Bekmambetov creates an appealing visual style that lends itself to an energetic, entertaining and outright campy action/thriller. While the film has its fun moments, these moments are the exception and not the rule. Bekmambetov, the Kazakh director who came to acclaim with Night Watch and Day Watch before helming Angelina Jolie's Wanted, seems absolutely convinced that turning this into a straightforward action flick is the way to go. In so doing, he misses the opportunity to turn Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter into a top notch dark comedy with, quite possibly, a deeply meaningful core.
The film is based upon a book by Seth Grahame-Smith, whom you may remember also penned "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." So, if you're looking for an actual history lesson here you're likely to be incredibly disappointed. The film essentially centers around a young Abe (Benjamin Walker) swearing revenge on vampires for the killing of his mother. Then, we learn that Lincoln doesn't sign the Emancipation Proclamation to actually free the slaves, but moreso to keep those gosh darn bloodsuckers from taking over the country. You see, the vampires are actually slave owners and, of course, they primarily go after slaves because no one will miss them if they're gone.
See what I mean? The social implications of this film are astounding, but Bekmambetov glosses over all of it in favor of nothing more than stylized axe killings and presidential proclamations.
The casting of Benjamin Walker, who played President Andrew Jackson in the Off-Broadway and Broadway productions of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, is most likely meant to capitalize on the inherent theatricality that Walker oozes. Walker is a stage performer and there's an intentionality in his performance that strips away any semblance of authenticity in favor of a more melodramatic, almost opera-like approach minus, of course, the actual opera.
Walker is, however, rather hit-and-miss in pulling all of this off. At times, he possesses an almost "deer in the headlights" quality about his performance that doesn't feel intentional. Other times, he exudes a confidence and winning dry wit that is downright captivating.
Walker is well cast with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays Mary Todd here and who also possesses Walkers theatricality and dry wit. Almost every time they are on screen, the film is practically stolen by Marton Csokas and Rufus Sewell as rival vampires, Csokas the killer of honest Abe's mother and Sewell the leader of the American Vampire Nation. Dominic Cooper also has a nice appearance as Henry, honest Abe's mentor in all things related to vampire killing.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter isn't an abysmal film, but I can't fathom it will match the hopes of a good majority of folks who will see it on opening weekend. D.P. Caleb Deschanel lenses the film beautifully by offering the film a sepia tone dripping in red, but Deschanel's camera work doesn't much survive a rather horrific 3-D post-conversion that may very well be worse than that in Clash of the Titans and comes pretty darn close to that of The Last Airbender.