July 03, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Dreadful. The cast is a fairly capable assortment of actors: Benjamin Walker as Abraham Lincoln, whose secret life as a vampire killer this movie (and the book it was based on) seeks to expose; Dominic Cooper, as the wise, good vampire who trains Abe to fight the teeming droves of bloodsuckers; Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd; and Anthony Mackie as Abe's longtime friend. The film is heavy-handed, adapted by author Seth Grahame-Smith from his novel. Smith demonstrated his ineptitude as a screenwriter in the earlier Dark Shadows. Here he confirms his inability to do anything different, as vampires remain his subject matter, only Abraham Lincoln doesn't try to be funny, where Dark Shadows made every attempt (and failed). Walker is a pretty convincing Abe Lincoln, but he's also convincing as a sort of 19th century ass-kicking action hero, and that's a rare combination. He could have carried this movie if there'd been any movie to carry, and Dominic Cooper has a wonderfully seedy look. He really belongs to the age of 1940s gangster movies, where he would have spent most of his career playing a hood or a failed prizefighter..

But the movie itself is rife with missed opportunities. It takes itself deadly serious, which is a preposterous way to approach an already preposterous storyline. Vampires are responsible for the South's near-victory in the Civil War, and Lincoln himself changed the course of history by implementing ammunition made of silver (to kill an army of vampires encroaching upon Union turf). Not only does it lack humor, the scare scenes aren't handled with any finesse. Most of the time, things move too fast for you to get a sense of what's going on, who's doing what to whom. The editing is to blame, perhaps, as well as the blurry camera work, and the dark lighting. (It's really not atmospheric if you can't see.) The movie itself seems to have been made entirely via computer, so there isn't a hint of reality to it. You can never really fall for its tricks because you're so aware of the phoniness of it all. How can you convince an audience to believe such an asinine premise without a genuine-looking visual design?

It's offensive enough when movies are poorly made, but even more so when you get the feeling that the filmmakers don't care (or perhaps don't know) to make an effort. There's no plotting to build the story. Lincoln's training with his vampire-killing instructor Cooper is completed within fifteen minutes of the movie's beginning, and it feels disingenuous, too soon. It also recalls every bad montage of the hero preparing for battle in every bad action movie ever made. It's as though the creators decided you'd already seen that before. The filmmakers don't bother to develop these scenes, or the relationships between the characters. This isn't a point to avoid redundancy, but rather a lazy man's excuse for quick-and-dirty story-telling, and we're never really able to develop an affection for "Lincoln." What little interest we have in him is through Walker's performance. But the cast is rendered less effective by the bummer of a movie that ensnares them in blandly conceived action sequences and a below-average script that's full of grandiose emotions but no brains to sort them out coherently.

Directed by Timur Berkmambetov. With Rufus Sewell and Martin Csokas.

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