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Van Helsing

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/25/05 02:02:16

"Next up: Steven Sommers remakes The Monster Club."
1 stars (Sucks)

First things first: “Van Helsing” promotes itself as an on-screen reunion of the three big Universal Monsters, namely, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolf Man. This is a major misnomer. Yes, it was the Universal Studios of the 1930s who made these three the staple of any monster line-up, but many other studios have taken the characters and made them their own, from Hammer in the 1950s to Columbia and their failed updates of the 1990s. The creatures we see in “Van Helsing” are indeed these characters, but they are not the Universal Monsters right out; in using the studio name, one conjures up memories of Lugosi, Chaney, and, of course, Karloff in that uncanny makeup.

I complain about this early because I am a Universal Monster fan at heart, and this sort of thing bugs me. Plus, it clears up the rest of the review for room to complain about just how ass-stupid “Van Helsing” is. This movie is meant to combine big action popcorn silliness with affection for classic horror both serious and not so much. It hopes to take the legendary monsters and smush them together into one oversized summer spectacular, and it does, but it gets everything wrong along the way.

It should be no surprise, then, that the movie comes from writer/director Stephen Sommers, who previously reworked the classic “Mummy” as an Indiana Jones rip-off. With that movie and its sequel, he showed a love for classic horror as well as an inability to properly express said love. Unless, that is, his expression of said love involves taking a big, steaming dump all over the object of his devotion.

So Sommers is spreading his love for the Universal line up with “Van Helsing,” a film whose premise sounds both very cool and very moronic - at the same time, somehow. The title character comes from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula;” he’s the old dude who’s hunting down the vampire. For Sommer’s film, Van Helsing is a young, rugged renegade cowboy type hired to travel the world and hunt down all sorts of night creatures. He’s played by Hugh Jackman as an ass-kicker in a duster and slick fedora as if he’s Clint Eastwood, Vampire Slayer.

Jackman has played this cool loner character before, minus the jacket, in the “X-Men” flicks, and comparisons are even less subtle when you realize that like Wolverine, Van Helsing is a hero who’s forgotten most of his past. But Wolverine was a cool mystery man, while Van Helsing is nothing but a Generic Action Hero. This is not Jackman’s fault. His personality is enough to earn the movie a few points, and he manages to come off as cool as he can despite a character and plot that are both remarkably asinine.

Anyway. It’s the 1880s, and Van Helsing works for some monster hunting division of the Vatican (no kidding). We first meet our hero as he battles a poorly animated Mr. Hyde (left over from the slightly smarter cartoon prequel). The sight of this limp CGI and weak character usage brings to mind five scary words: “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” Yup, like last year’s action mess, “Van Helsing” turns out to be great on paper, not at all on celluloid. (In fact, the movie’s sloppiness shows in how it rolls out not one but two intros before we finally get to the main plot; there’s also an unsuccessful scene involving Frankenstein, Dracula, and an angry mob. This should’ve been great. It’s not even close.)

Jump ahead a bit to Van Helsing’s arrival at the Vatican, where he’s given his latest assignment, something about stopping Dracula from killing off this royal family in Transylvania, or whatever. It’s in this section of the film we come to understand just how awful things will get. First off, we meet Van Helsing’s boss, a character who insists on becoming Cardinal Exposition. The laughter was unstoppable as the Cardinal presented an oral history of the organization and Van Helsing’s involvement therein - to Van Helsing, who already knows all of this.

Secondly, we meet Carl (David Wenham), a wacky sidekick friar who speaks in a voice that reminds me of IQ in the old “James Bond Jr.” cartoon. Which fits, since he’s an inventor of sorts obviously modeled after Q. So Carl runs down Van Helsing’s latest array of impossibly hi-tech gadgets, and then he comes to a chemical he’s testing that has the ability to create light as powerful as the sun. Pause. “I don’t know what to use it for,” he lets out, and if there’s a person out there watching this scene that can’t figure out its eventual use, I will assume that person has suffered a severe concussion and is sleeping it off.

To my amazement, the movie manages to get dumber. To list it all would be a waste of space, so I will skip over the laughable Transylvanian accents (most wretchedly from Kate Beckinsale, playing a local princess - with an attitude!); the mysterious filmmaking decision that leaves the actor playing Igor in very cheap old man makeup, despite the fact that such makeup is never, ever needed for the story; the lovably daft chase sequence that ends with a horse-drawn carriage leaping over a massive chasm (!); the fact that Richard Roxburgh makes the worst screen Dracula since Leslie Nielson; and the plot that insists that there is a full moon every three days. Not making that last one up, folks.

The all-time king of dumbness in “Van Helsing” is the inexplicable, completely bizarre, utterly random decision by Sommers that Dracula should have an army of midget minions who dress up in costumes that look like cheap “Doctor Who” aliens. Nowhere in my recollection of Stoker’s tale do I recall midget aliens minions, but here they are, in all their What the Frick glory.

This is so important to showcasing the movie’s complete stupidity that I shall repeat: In the summer action extravaganza “Van Helsing,” writer/director Stephen Sommers has opted to give Dracula an army of midget alien minions.

MIDGET ALIEN MINIONS.

As soon as I’m done laughing, I’ll finish my review.

OK, I’m done. “Van Helsing” is a Bad Movie of epic proportions, and not even the one-two punch of talented actors Jackman and Wenham can save the day. Here’s a movie so horribly dimwitted that had me laughing so much over its idiocies that I don’t even have space to discuss how unconvining the CGI is, or how the plot seems to lack any proper pacing, or how the film is just another example of high concept moviemaking that results in sloppy, unwatchable psuedo-storytelling, all action sequences and no workable story. This movie is not, as Sommers intended, a tribute to the classic movie monsters of long ago. It is, instead, a glowing tribute to stupidity. Can’t wait for the sequel.

Midget alien minions. Cripes. Cracks me up every time.

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