Although the general purpose of a movie review is to help readers decide if a film is worth shelling out some hard-earned cash, chances are you've already made up your mind about this one. And all it likely took was a quick glance at the title. After all, few things can illicit such divisiveness among moviegoers like reading the words Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter scrawled across a marquee. What might look like a fun, violence-filled genre romp to one cinefile could, to another, look like the horrifying marriage of the Twilight craze with sensationalistic History Channel-style revisionism. That's probably not what the producers had in mind when they set out to adapt Seth Grahame-Smith's novel, but the reality is that either one of those hypothetical movies would've been more entertaining than what we were given.
That's not to say that this is a total suck-fest. It merely lacks the bite promised by its absurd, vamp-camp set-up. The biggest stake through the film's overwrought heart is its schizophrenic tone. Obligatory vampire puns aside, the film just takes itself too seriously. Of course, director Timur Bekmambetov made his name with the stylish fight scenes in his Russian vampire movies Night Watch and Day Watch and the slick, over-the-top action sequences in Lincoln do not disappoint. Whether it's a vengeance-fueled battle with his mother's killer on horseback during a stampede or a nail-biting (or is that neck-biting?) encounter on-board a roaring locomotive during the film's climax, Lincoln possesses moments that dazzle. But the second Abe puts down his inventive axe/rifle hybrid, the movie becomes a bore of truly epic proportions.
Opening in Indiana, the film depicts a young Lincoln as he is working on a plantation with his family. While trying to stop a boy from being beaten by the plantation's slave owner, Abe and his parents are forcibly removed and his father is threatened into paying his debt to the slave owner in full. Because he is unable to comply, the slave owner sends a vampire to collect by murdering Abe's mother. Swearing vengeance a la Bruce Wayne, Abe is rescued by a mysterious vamp hunter named Henry Sturgess after a botched attempt at bringing his mother's killer to justice nearly leads to his own death. Taking the inexperienced Lincoln under his wing, Sturgess trains the aspiring Van Helsing in the messy art of vampire slayage. At this point, the film begins juggling Abe's career as a silver-brandishing vigilante with all of the requisite historical events, from wedding Mary Todd to drafting the Emancipation Proclamation. Oh yeah, and the Civil War was apparently about taking down a cabal of vampires who secretly controlled the South. Who knew?
In addition to the flashy, kinetic action sequences, another of the film's rare strengths is its pulpy presidential protagonist. Benjamin Walker is no stranger to taking on the role of a historical figure. He managed an impressive turn as the titular sexologist in Kinsey and he is equally convincing here as the lanky, axe-wielding commander-in-chief. But one can't help but wonder if his talents are going to waste. He seems much more comfortable making speeches than beheading bloodsuckers. If a proper biopic of Abe, sans the dentally challenged undead, goes into production in the near future, the folks in casting could do worse than bringing Walker in. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the film's cabinet of supporting players. Mary Elizabeth Winstead's (The Thing) portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln and the usually brilliant Alan Tudyk's (Death at a Funeral) turn as Stephen Douglas seem about as lifeless as the fanged ones. This feeling of going through the motions pervades the film to such a significant degree that you'll wonder if there are more zombies than vampires populating this version of 19th century America.
Although Abe himself is not to blame, it's ultimately the Abraham Lincoln portion of the movie that ends up preventing the vampire hunter ingredients from consistently creating any real sense of terror or excitement. This fictional Lincoln just could not successfully unify the disparate elements of this film in the same way the real one managed to unify a nation.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter continues at the Carmike 12 and Village 6.