Saturday, June 30, 2012

"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has the distinction of being extremely silly while taking itself very seriously. Imagine the origin story of Jebediah Springfield without the jokes. This botched adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith's 2010 novel is slightly redeemed by an irresistible premise. The idea of Confederates as vampires is compelling stuff, though it probably worked a lot better on the page.

Director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) has failed to bring the goods to his latest bite pic. (Night Watch and Day Watch also featured bloodthirsty immortals.) Say what you want about the teenage vegetarians in Twilight or a soap opera like HBO's True Blood; these popular examples of the genre have seduced a sizable portion of the viewing public. The damned souls in AL:VH won't make you swoon or scare you to death. They'll bore you to tears.

A movie that reimagines Abraham Lincoln as Abraham Van Helsing and his Confederate enemies as monsters can't be all bad. Bekmambetov doesn't really know what to do with the material, but occasionally the film will give you hints of the awesomeness that might have been. A plantation scene where vampires attack their slaves is a memorably ghoulish set piece, though like almost everything else that's action-oriented in the movie, it's ruined by confusing editing. The filmmakers deserve credit for not watering down Grahame-Smith's merciless portrait of the Rebels. Hollywood has been justifiably criticized for romanticizing the Southern cause in films like Gone with the Wind and Gods and Generals. At least Bekmambetov puts slaveowners in their proper place.

AL:VH isn't an outright disaster like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Jonah Hex; it's passable entertainment that makes you wish it were a whole lot better. The historical setting, playful revisionism and relentless brutality made me hungry for Django Unchained. Quentin Tarantino's latest is due out this Christmas, by which time just about everyone will have forgotten there was ever a movie about the Great Emancipator and his double life as a fearless vampire killer.