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ABRAHAM LINCOLN : VAMPIRE HUNTER – The Review

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In 2009 Seth Grahame-Smith had an idea for a literary and pop culture mash-up. Kind of like a prose version of the classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials ( ” You got chocolate in my peanut butter! ” You got peanut butter in my chocolate!” ). The result was the best seller ” Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” ( ” You got flesh-eaters in my Jane Austen!” ). Soon other authors followed with ” Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters “. But Grahame-Smith, for his next novel,  embarked on another concoction: horror icons and historical figures. It would be revealed that a beloved former president shared more than a first name with Dr.Van Helsing, the nemesis of Count Dracula. Like the good doctor ( and cheerleader Buffy Summers ), honest Abe Lincoln was a vampire hunter. Soon fantasy film maven Tim Burton’s production company snapped up the movie rights and now ABRAHAM LINCOLN : VAMPIRE HUNTER has arrived in theatres everywhere. Will movie audiences embrace this genre mash-up as much as bibliophiles have?

In the film’s opening moments, we see President Lincoln  putting pen to paper in his secret journal. He recounts his days as a poor son of a farmer who witnesses his mother’s demise at the hands of vampire Jack Barts ( Marton Csokas ). Many years later teenage Abe ( Benjamin Walker )  is nearly killed tracking down Barts. Luckily the lad is rescued by Henry Sturgess ( Dominic Cooper ), who tells of a vast vampire network headed by the mysterious Adam ( Rufus Sewell ) . The two strike a deal. Henry will train Abe to destroy vamps, if Abe only eliminates the monsters that Henry singles out via letters to Abe once he re-locates in that hub of the evil  undead, Springfield, Illinois. Arriving there, Abe gets a job at the general store of Joshua Speed ( Jimmi Simpson ), re-unites with a childhood friend the free-born son of slaves Will Johnson ( Anthony Mackie ), and meets future wife Mary Todd ( Mary Elizabeth Winstead ). Soon the missives from Henry are delivered and Abe must tear himself away from the law books and shopkeeping to rid the town of the vampire scourge. Word reaches Adam who must stop the rail-splitter from not only destroying his undead brethren, but from achieving political office and ending slavery ( seems they’re a steady source of blood ). As the country heads into the Civil War, Abe must take up his old skills in order to prevent Adam and his vampire forces from make the Confederacy victorious.

Sounds a bit silly? Well a lot of it does play like a stretched-out late night comedy skit minus much of the humor. No winking at the camera here, which helps the shock aspect of the first few vamp attacks. The bloodsuckers are all teeth when in feeding mode and adhere to several of the classical rules. Sunshine is not too much of a problem ( none of them pretty sparkly vamps, though ), thanks to special sunglasses and heavy-duty sunblock salve. They’re fast, strong, and can become invisible ( no evidence of animal transformation ). Director Timur Bekmambetov, in his first big English feature since 2008′s WANTED, tries to inject some energy into the quiet conversations and true incidents, but really seems to be chomping at the bit to tear into the big action set pieces. Abe and the baddies leap, spin, and kick ala’ the Matrix  and other ‘ wire-fu’ flicks. A battle during a horse stampede quickly becomes a CGI cartoon, as does a gravity defying ( or ignoring ) fight atop a crashing locomotive. The main characters are mere bouncing video game stars by the film’s long-in-coming finale. Walker, looking like a baby-faced Liam Neeson, never is allowed past history icon status. He’s just a fellow who wears tall hats and uses his axe very well ( the film skirts into ‘ steam punk’ territory with some of the weaponry and gadgets ). Cooper is merely the tough mentor ( think a playboy Ben Kenobi ), who’s hiding a big secret. Sewel is good as a dead-eyed, snarling mastermind with his emotions always in check. Mackie’s mostly Watson to Walker’s Holmes and never really gets a chance to shine. And there’s little passion between Walker and Winstead during the courtship of Abe and Mary. She’s regulated to the background until an embarrassing scene where she pounds on Abe’s chest after a tragedy occurs. Historical figures are name checked ( ” I’m Stephen Douglas! ” Thank you. Miss Tubman” ) as are Civil War battles and events ( Fort Sumter! Gettysburg! ), but the scenes seem to be pulled out of a middle school social studies book. What could have been a funny, spooky romp of a popcorn fantasy flick is instead an overwrought, clunky, noisy endurance test for the audience.

Overall Rating: 2.5 Out of 5 Stars

 

 

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

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