The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has a heck of a concept. Our 16th president slaying vampires? Wow. Give 20th Century Fox credit for greenlighting this one. Even though it's based on a best-selling book, turning that conceit into a big-budget summer action picture took some real guts. It's the kind of thing that fans of the truly bizarre (such as myself) will rush to, but there's also a chance of it putting off many others, either because they don't think such a prominent historical figure should be “re-conceived” or because the idea seems too silly. Watching it, I kept wondering what it would be like to have a time machine, so that we could bring Lincoln into the present, show him the film, and get his reaction. He'd probably keel over from shock.

Relative newcomer Benjamin Walker plays Lincoln. An introductory flashback shows him as a child, watching local businessman (and slave owner) Jack Barts gruesomely murder his mother. When he grows into a young man, he seeks revenge, but is stunned to learn that Barts is a vampire. After a confrontation in which he's nearly killed, Lincoln is saved and then mentored by Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), an expert in the field of slaying bloodsuckers. A period of intense training ensues. Once fully schooled in the art of vampire massacre, the ax-wielding Lincoln is sent to Springfield, Missouri, to eliminate some targets. Honest Abe also marries the lovely Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and eventually gets the opportunity to face his mortal enemy. But Barts is not the biggest foe to be brought down. That honor would go to a vampire named Adam (Rufus Sewell), who commands a fierce, fanged army primed to take over the United States.

Writer Seth Grahame-Smith, adapting his own book, has crafted some clever scenarios for the tale, chief among them the idea that vampires want slavery upheld for selfish reasons. By fighting against it based on moral principles, Lincoln is actually threatening their very existence, which makes him Vampire Public Enemy #1. The movie plays its premise completely straight; director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) must have figured it was campy enough as is, in need of little further embellishment. The film therefore tries to create real stakes, and not just be a silly adventure with a beloved president chopping up monsters. The approach gives Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter some kick.

Having said that, there is still something delightfully daft about seeing Abe Lincoln taking his ax to fanged creatures. Come on – that's funny! The action scenes are bloody and interestingly staged. A fight taking place amidst stampeding horses is a particular hoot (wait until you see how a horse gets used as a weapon!). Same goes for the grand finale, set on top of a speeding train. As he did in Wanted, Bekmambetov envisions cool shots that give the sequences a radical visual flair. The movie could have been completely cheesy, yet it's not. Real effort went into creating something exciting and potentially high-five inducing.

While there is definite fun to be had here, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter does have a few flaws that I just couldn't completely get past. A big one is Lincoln himself. The script does very little development of his character, choosing instead to simply incorporate historical accuracies as a way of defining him. For any movie like this to work, we have to be invested in the central character. This incarnation of Lincoln needed to be more than a “greatest hits” compendium of facts. Seeing him write the Gettysburg Address is not the same as giving him a full embodiment. The villain, Adam, is underdone too. He never really felt all that interesting or dangerous. The whole president-as-vampire-killer premise is additionally a bit one-note. It would make a killer short film, but gets a slight bit repetitive when stretched out to 104 minutes.

In the end, I'm right down the middle on this movie. There are things about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter that absolutely tickled me, and other things that I know could (and should) have been better executed. Still, there's nothing else on the cinematic landscape quite like it. The movie may not totally succeed in what it wants to do, but neither should it be dismissed.

( 1/2 out of four)

Note: I saw Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in 2D, and am so glad I did. The film's color palate is mostly shades of brown. There's no way it would look good in 3D. Also, aside from a few gimmicky shots, there's nothing here to justify a 3D presentation.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is rated R for violence throughout and brief sexuality. The running time is 1 hour and 44 minutes.

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