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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
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by Peter Sobczynski

"And You Thought Nixon's Southern Strategy Was Terrifying. . ."
1 stars

If there is one thing to be said about the action/horror pastiche "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer," it is that both the title and premise are so calculatedly absurd as is that it is unlikely that few people will stumble into it unawares--those who find it to be too ridiculous for words will give it a wide berth and those who are somehow enchanted by the idea of its potential lunacy will be rushing post-haste to their local multiplex to experience it for themselves. The bad news is that in this case, the former group is the one that is on to something and most members of the latter may find themselves praying for emancipation from the theater long before it officially ends. There have been plenty of ultra-idiotic movies to come along in the last few weeks but this one is so stupid and so far beyond what even the most desperate sensation junkie might plausibly consider to be entertaining. It is so bad, in fact, that when a colleague asked me the day after the screening if I would rather see it again or "Battleship," I mulled it over for a second and finally admitted that I would rather sit through "Battleship" again, if only because Rihanna is a cutie and because watching it did not require that I don a pair of uncomfortable plastic glasses in order to fully embrace its satanically stupid offerings. Granted, those may be slim reasons to build a preference on but at this point in the summer movie derby, when practically everything not named "Prometheus" or "Moonrise Kingdom" is disappointing for one reason or another, you take what you can get and cling to it like the grim death that is "Abraham Lincoln" all over.

The film opens in 1818 as the young Abe Lincoln fights for justice by trying to stop the slavedriving Jack Barts (Marton Csokas) from being exceptionally cruel, an act that Barts repays by killing Lincoln's beloved mother. A few years later and all grown up, Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) comes gunning for revenge at last but is no match for Barts' inexplicable powers until he is rescued in the ta-daa! nick of time by the mysterious Henry Burgess (Dominic Cooper), who informs Lincoln that Barts is actually a vampire, one of many that have begun to appear in America. Burgess takes Lincoln under his wing and eventually, Lincoln arrives in Springfield, Illinois and begins spending his days working as a shopkeeper, studying the law and gradually drifting into politics by day and destroying a wide array of bloodsuckers with his trusty silver axe by night. (Imagine the monsters he might encounter if he ever got around to visiting Rantoul.) Eventually, Lincoln's activities attract the attention of Adam (Rufus Sewell), the New Orleans-based leader of the vampires who has been using the influx of slaves in the region as a perpetual food supply and who eventually takes advantage of the Civil War to join forces with Jefferson Davis in an effort to use vampires to help win the battle as part of a plot to help them vampires take over the country for good. (And you thought Nixon's Southern strategy was monstrous. . .) Naturally, it is up to the now-President Lincoln, along with wife Mary (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), trusted valet William Johnson (Anthony Mackie) and relatively extraneous sidekick Joshua Speed, to both preserve the Union and kick as much vampire ass as possible.

Needless to say, the connections between the contents of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" and real life veer between the coincidental and the nonexistent. Of course, this is nothing new--as one of our most revered leaders, Lincoln has been the subject of any number of movies and most of them have had more than their share of hooey as well. For example, the 1939 John Ford classic "Young Mr. Lincoln" is duly recognized as a classic but most of it was made up out of whole cloth and don't even get me started on the immortal "Abraham Lincoln: Freedom Fighter." That said, my problem with this film is not that it is complete and utter nonsense but that the nonsense is presented in the most confused and idiotic manner imaginable. A film like this--one that attempts to fuse together wild action, absurdist humor and a crackpot take on history--needs to find the proper tone and stick with it throughout; the bizarre but entertaining cult item "Bubba Ho-Tep" (which asked us to believe that Elvis and J.F.K. were still alive, that the latter could plausibly be played by Ossie Davis and that the two could find themselves battling mummies and the like in the basement of the shabby nursing home where they reside) pulled this trick off beautifully and demonstrated that it could be done.

Here, the story veers from scene to scene between being another over-the-top action epic and a weirdo comedy but instead of figuring out a way of blending the two approaches, they keep pummeling each other into the kind of submission from which there are no winners, especially among the audience members. To be fair, I have not read the best-selling novel by Seth Grahame-Smith that the film is based on so for all I know, it may have pulled off this balancing act perfectly only to see all of that lost in its transfer from the page to the screen. However, seeing as how Grahame-Smith also penned the screenplay, it stands to reason that if that were the case, he shoulders at least part of the responsibility for the failure to find the right tone. He certainly deserves to be blamed for the muddled narrative and characters (yes, even an axe-wielding vampire-killing Abe Lincoln comes off as a bit of a bore here) and a finale that is so chaotic that the key events go by in such a blur that they barely even register. And at the risk of sounding overly sensitive, his attempts at linking specific events to his half-assed vampire gimmick is really kind of tasteless at certain points. To suggest that saving the country from vampires instead of that other thing was the key thing driving the Civil War is eyebrow-raising, to say the least (and I can't wait to hear how the film plays in the South, especially the scene in which the vampires actually form their treaty with Jefferson Davis) but to suggest that the mysterious real-life death of Lincoln's son William during his presidency--the event that is often cited as the one that shattered the psyche of Mary Todd Lincoln--was the result of a vampire bite is a bit beyond even the considerable amount of pale displayed here.

Considering that it offers viewers a combination of fast-paced action involving vampires, fight scenes in which the brawlers frequently find themselves violating the known laws of gravity and a story so utterly bonkers that it makes the aforementioned fight scenes seem downright plausible by comparison, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" is a project that seems tailor-made for the talents of director Timur Bekmambetov, the man behind such hyperactive hits as the Russian vampire epics "Night Watch" and "Day Watch" and the Angelina Jolie vehicle "Wanted." Those movies combined. Those films were pure madness, to be sure, but I for one thought that they worked tremendously well and this was due in large part to Bekmambetov's ability to combine the lurid and lunatic storylines (such as the immortal "Loom of Fate" from "Wanted"), which he correctly handled by having the actors play them as straightforwardly as possible instead of having everyone act as thought they are aware that they are in a cartoon, with eye-poppingly gorgeous action sequences of such audacity that they gave even Luc Besson a run for his money. This time, however, what should have been, if nothing else, primo eye candy has instead resulted in a sour mess capable of rotting everything in its path. The visual grace that he brought to his earlier efforts has been muted considerably (especially thanks to the not-particularly-impressive 3-D conversion that makes hash of cinematographer Caleb Deschanel's work) and there is only one sequence that approaches the delirious delights that he pulled off so brilliantly--a climactic moment involving a train struggling across a burning train trestle spanning over an impossibly huge chasm--and even that comes on a little too late and isn't nearly audacious enough to make up for the rest of the film's deficiencies.

Consisting of what is little more than a one-joke premise, and not a particularly amusing one at that, bolstered slightly by an admitted grabber of a title, "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" is essentially the most expensive Troma movie ever made, lacking the quiet dignity, cohesive plotting or the shot of a flipping car. However, the combination of the film's premise and the daydreaming that most viewers will probably experience due to the lack of any real distraction is enough to inspire speculation about similar titles involving presidents battling supernatural creatures that could be used as part of an ongoing series. For example, how about "Theodore Roosevelt: Trustbusters," "William Taft Vs. The Blob," "George W. Bush: Snipe Hunter" or "William Henry Harrison: Flu Fighter"? (Admittedly, the last title would probably have to be a short.) Hell, we could even have Grover Cleveland battling zombies or werewolves or the like in two non-consecutive sequels. If you spend enough time coming up with similar ideas (and it is both easy and fun), you should be able to completely ignore "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" and it will presumably fade swiftly from memory, unless it winds up one day becoming a part of the Tennessee school curriculum in lieu of actual history books, of course.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23150&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/21/12 22:02:56
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User Comments

7/15/17 Garlic Breath Entertaining camp film! 5 stars
10/18/12 Johnny Wad excellent movie! 5 stars
7/24/12 Mick Gillies Great action and effects - but poor Abe's been re invented 4 stars
7/09/12 Andy I love it Lincoln as a Vampire hunter...Very interesting story 4 stars
7/05/12 damalc i would have liked a more serious tone 3 stars
7/02/12 James Thomas A badass movie i would watch it again 5 stars
6/25/12 2Cruzy Campy semi-historic fun - with Vampires! 4 stars
6/25/12 action movie fan the critics are wrong, overdirected but action packed thrill ride class act , 1 of the best 5 stars
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  22-Jun-2012 (R)
  DVD: 23-Oct-2012


  DVD: 23-Oct-2012

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