Movie Review: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” Is Bloody Awful

By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

Somewhere in a gym sauna or wherever else seemingly normal folk suddenly become pundits and prophets, someone is citing Timur Bekmambetov’s “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” as the gospel truth: that our 16th President slew him a slew of vampires. I’m only surprised that Rupert Murdoch’s news empire didn’t break this story first.

Watching this absurdity, those of who have shunned the revisionist craze to fashion history for political expediency can’t help but ask why someone would pursue such a nutty fantasy? Next thing they’ll be telling us is that Lincoln wasn’t born in the U.S. Has the plot cupboard run so bare? The phone book made into a film would be more amusing.

Compounding the movie’s ludicrously perverted nonsense, it becomes near impossible to concentrate on the insane postulations without dwelling on the very motive of its being. A prospect far more haunting than anything being perpetrated on the screen enters the put upon mind: A marketing study said viewers want Chief Executives mixed with monsters.

Adding insult to injury, the screenplay Seth Grahame-Smith adapted from his novel is a plodding mess that never gets more inventive than its sophomorically staggering premise. Placing the stencil of his reverie over the generally accepted history of Lincoln and our nation, he makes clumsy connections without even an accidental incident of cleverness.

And if there’s some sort of metaphor in this tale about how the slaveholding South formed an unholy alliance with the undead in an effort to fend off the abolitionist North, it’s probably as offensive as it is pointless. One would think a screenplay as chock full with politicians would at least have some biting satire. It’s not even a good vampire film.

The computer generated scenery depicting the era is worthy of humming. But the special effects intended to make terrifying the army of bloodsuckers Abe forms a lifetime of enmity with in his rail splitting days is cheap, repetitious and uninspired. The acting is drab, although anyone who can keep a straight face in this morass deserves a gold star.

Now, Section #2, Codicil #3 of “The Film Critic’s Rules of Procedure & Ethics Guide” makes no bones about it. It reads: “No matter how stupid or demeaning it may seem to the critic, even the lowliest of cinema efforts deserves to have its storyline synopsized somewhere in the criticism…even if the movie is about Presidents and vampires.”

Re-reading that, I nevertheless groaned, “Do I have to, really?” my entreaty essentially addressed to the ghosts and demons of my childhood, all of whom long ago took up residence in the unvisited recesses behind my basement office. Were it not so specifically worded, I’d surely demur from the stated obligation. But duty calls. So here it goes.

The story begins in Indiana, where little Abraham Lincoln observes some transported slaves being abused by his dad’s villainous boss, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). The older Lincoln intervenes, unaware that the martinet is a vampire. Hey, can’t blame him…who’s ever heard of a vampire? He’s fired, and the fiend swears further revenge. He dallies not.

A night or so later, young Abe, peering down from his bed loft, witnesses Barts biting his Mom’s neck. She dies shortly thereafter, and though the future President doesn’t yet know the complete dynamics of what has transpired, he, too, swears revenge. A few years later, having reached his majority, he spots the miscreant. But his attempt at reprisal fails.

In fact, he’d have been killed himself if not for the swift intervention of Henry Sturgess, a take-charge, philosophical sort portrayed by Dominic Cooper. He informs Abe, played by Benjamin Walker, that he is a vampire hunter and invites him to join ranks. He can wreak his retribution while helping rid America of this parasitic scourge. Training begins.

Asked his choice of gun, Abe says he’s pretty handy with an axe. A silver-plated blade is fashioned for the novitiate. Soon enough, his killing skills tested after a few outings with Henry, the camera dramatically homes in on Lincoln, a Mona Lisa smile on his face as he menacingly twirls his axe, baton-style. He’s the backwoods, vampire-splitting Ninja.

The simply pieced together screenplay allows you ample pauses to shake your head in disbelief as Abe’s vampire killing career intermeshes with political ambitions, ultimately leading to his presidency, the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. Hey, it only makes sense, as the blood of plantation slaves has long been a favorite staple of vampires.

Marrying Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) along the way, continual heartaches follow courtesy of Abe’s sworn enemies, the silly script tying a vampiric explanation to every fact. Gee, history is fun. I hope that Hollywood, now bitten by “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” follows up with, say, “George Washington Meets the Wolfman.”

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” rated R, is a Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation release directed by Timur Bekmambetov and stars Benjamin Walker, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Dominic Cooper. Running time: 105 minutes

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