Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2010 novel “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” delivered an engrossing, literate revision of history.
The film adaptation is as faithful as a $70 million summer blockbuster can afford to be. But its hyper-stylized action scenes rob the narrative of its power.
Viewers expecting a parody will be startled. Grahame-Smith (who also penned the screenplay) presents a deadly serious environment, depicting a Civil War-era South where blacks are considered a commodity to be consumed and discarded by vampiric plantation owners. And these aren’t the pretty-boy, frat-party vamps of nowadays, but more like a cloistered gang of hostile survivalists constantly maneuvering to outlast the opposition.
“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” begins with the young Abe (Lux Haney-Jardine) witnessing the death of his mother at the hands of one of these “immortal, blood-sucking demons.” He vows revenge without fully comprehending what he’s up against.
As a young adult (capably played by the little-known Benjamin Walker), he meets up with mysterious dandy Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who despises this enemy. Henry agrees to teach Abe to identify and slay the fiends. Taking his rail-splitting training to a new level, Abe proves he’s even more comfortable with an ax than George Washington, slicing and dicing unsuspecting undead.
He eventually gains the attention of the supreme vampire, Adam (a menacing Rufus Sewell), who is not deterred when his foe makes it all the way to the White House.
Director Timur Bekmambetov played around with similar shadowy concepts in the superhuman assassin flick “Wanted.” He proves skilled at setting up an alternate world within a conventional reality. Yet his style clashes with this latest material. While Bekmambetov captures the right historical cadences, he intersperses unmistakably digital fight scenes rife with post-production gore and bullet-time kills that look like they came straight out of “Watchmen.”
This leads to increasingly nuttier action set pieces, such as Honest Abe honestly defying physics while pursuing a villain across a dusty stampede of wild horses. Not “through,” but “across” — the same way the old arcade game Frogger works, by leaping on moving objects that race at different speeds.
It’s all a bit much, especially by the time Lincoln and cohorts Josh (Jimmi Simpson) and Will (Anthony Mackie) defend a speeding, burning train against a vampire onslaught. Most filmmakers would render this “Road Warrior”-style finale with a little wink and nudge, but Bekmambetov chooses to stare down the material. It straddles his Civil War tale between Chancellorsville and Cartoon Land.
Could a more grounded approach to the action visuals improve the picture? At least it would be a respectable choice, and one that might elevate “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” to something better than an amusing CGI movie that’s a slave to its era. In this case, the era is not 1865; it’s the summer of 2012.3-D or not 3-D?
The 3-D process heightens the artificial quality of the film, which is already odd thanks to the relentless digital effects and zany cinematography of Caleb Deschanel (“The Passion of the Christ”). While there are many instances of vampire fangs flying at the screen, an equal amount of talky scenes feature random dust specks hovering in the foreground, apparently to remind the viewer it’s a 3-D effort.What others are saying
•Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald:
“Enormous in its scope and colossal in its stupidity.”
•Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune:
“An all-around failure, this summer’s ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.’ ”
•Neil Smith, Total Film:
“ ‘Come on dear,’ tuts Mrs. Lincoln toward the end. ‘We’ll be late for the theater!’ Arrive two hours late for this overcooked noise generator and you’ll have a fantastic night.”
•Jim Vejvoda, IGN.com: “Its heart may be in the right place — and any film that makes people interested in reading up on the real Lincoln must be commended — but overall the film is, ironically, bloodless.”