WEIRD WEDNESDAY: ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER

If there was ever a movie that belonged as part of the Weird Wednesday family it is this one. When I first read about the novel I assumed it was a joke. I imagined it as something you see on ‘Funny or Die’ or one of those movie mashup posters I really love. Then the reviews for the book raved about this alternate take on the greatest American president and then the film was greenlit.

So what is this zany take on Abraham Lincoln?

Take one iconic historical figure. Add two parts vampire myth. Sprinkle a thinly-laced vengeance storyline and his relationship with Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Add one part historical backdrop. And lastly add cartoon-like slo-mo action sequences.

That is the recipe for this movie and well one of the most expensive and ludicrous B-films I have seen since “Wild Wild West”.

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” stars newcomer Benjamin Walker as the 16th President. Abe watches as his mother is brutally killed by a vampire (Marton Csokas) and vows vengeance.

After his first plot backfires, Abe teams with Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper), a vampire hunter with a chip on his shoulder and a secret.

Henry teaches Abe about how to destroy vampires. They walk out to the forest and Henry asks Abe to split a tree in half with one blow.

But first he asks: “What do you hate?” Abe screams what he hates and slams his axe into the tree. Henry inspires him with the line: “True strength lies not in hate but in truth.” And Abe splits the tree when he believes in truth. It is so much funnier when you witness it.

This movie is filled with so many silly moments. But they are silly not funny. The sense of humor seems nullified.

Crazy plot twists also run rampant vamps can’t kill each other so they hire humans as hunters. Vamps can be destroyed by silver opposed to wood.

It is really sad when you see such emerging talent like Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anthony Mackie and Dominic Cooper forced to keep a straight face when saying these lines. Goofy horror/fantasy mainstay Rufus Sewell is right at home in this flick. The actor has been stuck in these kinds of films his whole career.

So what about Benjamin Walker? Well at first glance he looks like a very young Liam Neeson. And he tackles the material with ease.

But you can really never tell if he’s playing it straight under direction or duress. His whole performance for me was enigma.

Director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) shows he knows how to make things go boom, again. This isn’t his first journey into vampire lore since he directed indie hits “Nightwatch” and “Daywatch”, two hugely successful Russian vampire films. So we know he can do vampire scares good. He also shows once more he loves using slo-mo and really ridiculously expensive CGI action sequences. Like what the hell was that night battle scene in the middle of horse stampede?

Novelist Seth Grahame-Smith wrote the screenplay based on his own novel. The man also wrote the screenplay for the box office bomb “Dark Shadows” with Johnny Depp and he is hard at work on “Beetlejuice 2″ for Tim Burton. Please somebody send this guy back to writing books?

The critics who loved Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel talked about how clever the humor was in the book. And how easy it was for Smith to weave his story into historical events. If the film is any indication, there is not one ounce of humor and was lost on the translation. There is no sense of humor in the film at all and I would look to director Timur Bekmambetov for the blame. This should have been more B-movie than serious action/vampire tale.

In some spots, the concept reminded me of “Bubba Ho-Tep” where Bruce Campbell is Elvis and he is facing off against a demon. The smart thing of that film was it used Campbell’s B-film panache and magnetism as well as it was set in a mental asylum. So was he Elvis or not? “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” plays it solely straight.

From what I read of the novel, Abe Lincoln’s vampire hunting was described as his greatest secret. But when the film weaves the vampire myth into that the South adopting slavery was done by vampires, the South militia was funded by vampires and a vampire regiment was at Gettysburg. I burst out laughing. The only way I could take the flick after that was this was some alternate Earth. Because there is weaving a fictional backdrop into a historical figure’s bio and then there is rewriting significant historical events.

I can’t believe anyone spent $70 million on this. It is all up there but what a waste. If they would have kept the humor and trimmed the budget to $25 million then maybe we would have had a movie to enjoy.

1.5 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer

Note: Coming in January 2013, we will be presented with not only a bio-pic of “Lincoln” from Steven Spielberg but another zany fantasy movie called “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” starring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton. With that film and Abe Lincoln: Vamp Hunter, which other fantasy or real-life historical figure mashups would you like to see:

GEORGE WASHINGTON: GHOST HUNTER
MARCO POLO: YETI SLAYER
TOM SAWYER: WEREWOLF DETECTIVE
DORIAN GRAY: ILLUSIONIST DEBUNKER
ALBERT EINSTEIN: TIME TRAVELER
NEIL ARMSTRONG: FIRST CONTACT
DAVY CROCKETT: THE ORIGINS OF THE BIGFOOT
YOUNG CLEOPATRA: MY MUMMY AND ME

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