You wouldn’t expect something called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to take itself seriously, would you? Both the concept and the title are Snakes on a Plane-level ridiculous and the movie should be the kind of whiz-fang joyride that even the snobbiest of filmgoers can enjoy in the summertime. But then you have to remember that director Timur Bekmambetov is the same guy who asked us to swallow that Loom of Fate business in 2008’s Wanted without the hint of a snicker. In fact, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, stuffed to the gills with slick action sequences and a cast that is far better than the material, achieves the same caliber of empty action as Wanted. Only, sadly, without the sexual oomph of Angelina Jolie.
In this film the oomph burden rests squarely on Benjamin Walker’s broad shoulders as he plays our nation’s 16th president from young railsplitter to Ford’s Theatergoer. If Walker’s tall frame and presidential glower remind you of Liam Neeson, it’s no accident. He played a teenaged Kinsey in the 2004 biopic. Walker is best-known to theater lovers, however, as the sexually charged star of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.” But his Honest Abe lacks all the luster and incendiary charisma he poured into playing our 7th president. And though, once he dons the stovepipe and beard, the resemblance is uncanny, Walker here is much more National monument than flesh and blood. Based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s best-selling novel, this version of our nation’s history, has a young Lincoln lose his mother to vampires rather than the mysterious “milk sickness” of record and, thus, he and his childhood friend (played by Anthony Mackie who deserves better parts than this, Hollywood) grow up to hunt vampires.
Refreshingly, this is the first piece of fiction in recent memory that that doesn’t ask us to sympathize with or romanticize vampires. The bad guys in this movie are not only undead, they’re also slave-owners. Yup, racist vampires. That’s right up there with Nazi zombies in the unsympathetic monster department. Sure there’s one sucker with a heart of gold played by Dominic Cooper and his repentant vampire-turned-Miyagi is a highlight. In fact, much like the bullet curving scenes in Wanted, the axe-twirling training montages provide the film’s only fun. Oh yeah, even Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has a montage. Veteran bad guy Rufus Sewell does an absolutely adequate job in the glower/fang baring department and he and his leggy blonde co-hort provide plenty of menace for our hero. But the idea that the motivation behind Lincoln’s political career was less about idealistic notions of equality and more about beating the stuffing out of Vampires is far too silly to be taken as seriously as it is.
But, at the very least, the film looks great. Cartoonish, but great. Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Day Watch) is a veteran when it comes to vampire flicks and the gothic styling suits the antebellum fashions to a T. Though overblown, the two large action sequences (a horse stampede chase scene and a fiery train ride), would be right at home in the kind of movie I wanted this to be. Any scene that ends with a horse being flung at one of our Nation’s most famous faces should inspire reckless summertime cineplexian cheers. I wanted to love this movie. I left all my cynicism in the dust the minute I first heard the delightfully preposterous title. But with its oddly dour and stately tone, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter spoiled my fun. Lincoln may look great with an axe in his hand but, by the end, I was sick and tired of these motherf*cking vampires on this motherf*cking train.