Sunday, June 24, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter


ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER - Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Rufus Sewell (105 min.)

When a movie has a title like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the plot description pretty much writes itself.  There are no questions walking into a film like this.  It is also a strict test of the theory that films require suspension of disbelief.  If you're walking into this film expecting historical accuracy, you need to first get your head examined, then you need to wait for December for Steven Spielberg's Lincoln before you get anything resembling history lesson.  Walk into this one expecting an acute interpretation of the title itself, and you may be pleased.  All of the players are here, Honest Abe, Mary Todd, etc.  But I seriously doubt the real Lincoln was this skilled with an axe.

Benjamin Walker plays Abraham Lincoln, and he looks so eerily like Liam Neeson I found it as no surprise he actually played a 19-year old version of the actor in Kinsey.  Lincoln is narrating the story, from a journal he has kept with him since childhood, when his mother was killed by a vampire.  This attack fueled his desire for revenge, though at first he had no idea what he was up against.  As a young man, Lincoln is drinking, angry, at a tavern when he meets Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), the mystery man required in films like this one.  Henry will become Lincoln's mentor, teaching him the skills required to destroy vampires.  Never much of a marksman, Lincoln opts to wield a silver-plated axe to do his hunting, and he learns to spin and pirouette with the axe like a martial artist.

The vampires in the story are Southern slave owners, naturally, and when the Civil War is in full force later in the picture the vampires fight for the Rebels.  The leader of the vampire society is Adam (the creator of all vampires, get it?), played with effective menace and sincerity by Rufus Sewell, who really should be in more films.  Adam and his vampires use the slaves as dinner basically, and when they here about this Lincoln scoundrel killing vampires in Springfield they cannot wait to meet him.

Henry sends Lincoln to Springfield where he practices his killing on local vampires and, at the same time, takes an interest in the law and studies to be a lawyer.  Against Henry's demands (no family, no friends), Lincoln falls in love with Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and the two marry.  Lincoln continues his moonlighting gig for a while, but soon finds he has strength in leadership and power in words. He puts away his axe and grows into the 16th President of The United States.  The final act of the picture has Lincoln facing off against Adam and his Southern rebel vampires, and a thrilling chase and battle sequence atop a train - albeit one that gets confusing and overcooked in the end - which leads us directly to Gettysburg and Lincoln's famous address.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is, if anything, solidly entertaining.  I never read the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also penned the script, but I imagine this is what he had in mind.  That isn't to say the film is particularly memorable.  Director Timur Bekmambetov, who directed Wanted, has a unique visual style for his action scenes which are effective here.  And the film itself, shot in rich sepia tones, is always nice to look at save for a ridiculous and poor-looking CGI scene amid a stampede of horses.  This is just laughable.  Walker is solid as Lincoln, as is Cooper, and Sewell is a formidable foe.  But the rest of the cast is unremarkable.  They have very little to do when all is said and done.  And of course the material is absurd, but played straight with little room for laughter was the best idea.  Had there been the slightest hint of tongue in cheek, the entire thing could have gone up in flames.