What does Abraham Lincoln have in common with Buffy Summers, Blade, and Van Helsing? Apparently vampire hunting. Yes, according to novelist turned screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (The Hard Times of RJ Berger) our nation’s 16th president slew the undead as a young man and even while he was leading this great nation as the president. Director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) and producer Tim Burton (Edward Scissor Hands, Dark Shadows) seem to agree. Surely a film would have to be a success with names as big as these involved right? Right??
After witnessing a vampire murder his mother, a young Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) makes it his mission to get revenge. But when he finally works up the courage to kill the man who took his mother from him he is horrified to find out that that man is in fact an undead blood sucker. With the help of the mysterious Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) Lincoln survives the encounter and learns the ways of vampire hunting.
One uninspired montage later and Henry sends Lincoln out to begin dealing bloody justice. Along the way he marries the lovely Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), reunites with old friend Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie), and makes a new friend in Joshua Speed (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Jimmi Simpson). He also runs into the evil vampire Adam (Rufus Sewell) who is the leader of the vampires in the south. With the help of his newfound friends Abraham Lincoln endeavors to rid the United States of the vampire problem.
Speaking of vampire problems, one of the biggest problems with the film is the portrayal of the undead. Uninspired and cartoony, the vampires only reveal their “true selves” in quick flashes during action scenes. Not only are the vampires visually lacking but they’re also not really beholden to any solid vampire lore.
In this movie there’s never a clear answer to anything vampire. We are told they can’t hurt each other but twice in the film we see them fighting each other. Worse still, they walk around in direct sunlight with no mention of whether or not it can kill them. They wear sunglasses sometimes and they do seem to be wearing sunscreen, but who knows if they actually fear the sun or not. In any vampire fiction that’s a huge issue that has to be addressed.
Another large problem is the mess of a screenplay. The film jumps around without giving anything that happens enough time to breath. Lincoln and Mary Todd get married after being in one or two scenes together. Lincoln’s childhood friend Will Johnson shows up and suddenly their thick as thieves. No set up and no back story. They just happened to be friends, I guess.
The only relationship that feels somewhat fully formed and real is that between Lincoln and Henry. The two clash on how vampires should be fought, especially when Henry’s fairly obvious secret is revealed. It’s an interesting bit of the movie that should have been explored deeper.
The performances for the most part are largely forgettable. Walker certainly looks like Lincoln, especially later in the film when he becomes president and has his full on Lincoln beard, but his performance is hit and miss. I would blame the script and the direction though because he does show promise. Obviously I’ve only seen Lincoln in photos, but Walker manages to evoke the man on the $5 bill very well, even if it’s with the help of very good makeup.
Winstead looks cute but doesn’t do anything memorable. Cooper however is fun as Henry and has a nice scene in a flashback toward the middle of the film. He injects much needed personality to this mirthless film. The rest of the cast isn’t worth mentioning.
Is there any saving grace to this movie? Well, the action scenes are kinda neat. There’s definitely that signature Bekmambetov vibe to them. Frenetic camera moves and glorious slow-mo make a lot of the action scenes fun, but use of shaky cam and quick cutting hurts them also. It doesn’t help that obvious CGI is gratuitously used throughout; giving the movie an oddly hazy and artificial feel. The vampires themselves, as I mentioned before, are cartoony and not scary or interesting. I did however enjoy seeing Walker swing the axe around. It was like he invented his own special martial art for wielding the tree cutting tool. He also gets some sweet kills when the slow-mo kicks in.
Overall Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is an intriguing idea, but a poorly executed one that no one will remember a couple years from now. See it in a matinee or wait for the Blu-ray. 2 out of 5 stars.