Enormous in its scope and colossal in its stupidity, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a work of revisionist history/fantasy that argues Lincoln didn’t sign the Emancipation Proclamation to abolish slavery: He did it to prevent vampires from taking over the country.
The South, you see, was actually the domain of undead bloodsuckers. They had infiltrated society, become immune to daylight (one of the many things that the movie is fuzzy about) and passed themselves off as friendly pharmacists or bankers or barkeeps. For food, the vampires fed primarily on slaves, because no one cared when they went missing. Then that meddling Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) was elected President and decided the monsters must be stopped at all costs. Oh, if the slaves happened to be freed as a result, that would be good, too.
I haven’t read the Seth Grahame-Smith novel that inspired Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (the author also wrote the screenplay), but I’m going to guess this premise worked much better in print. For the screen, director Timur Bekmambetov (Day Watch, Wanted), who is Kazakhstan’s answer to Michael Bay, glosses over the small details — the things that would have the movie at least passably engaging — and opts for lots of bullet-time photography and gigantic set pieces, sound and fury signifying nothing. Buffy Summers was a vampire slayer out of birthright: She was born with the gift. Lincoln becomes a vampire slayer (and learns kung-fu and gymnastics and parkour) by practicing with his ax until he can chop down trees with one swing. Seriously, that is the extent of his training.
One of the biggest problems in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is that Lincoln (unconvincingly played by Walker, who runs around looking cowed) and his wife Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, in a role that redefines the term “thankless”), are far less interesting than their undead rivals. Thanks to The Vampire Diaries, True Blood and the Twilight Saga, vampires are cool now. They’re fun to hang with, and if you befriend one, he won’t even kill you! There is a scene in the movie in which the monsters (who are led by Rufus Sewell) throw themselves a ball, then feast on their unsuspecting human guests. The sequence is supposed to be frightening and repellent, but instead it makes you wish the film would stay with these party animals instead of going back to the boring White House. Nothing fun ever happens there.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was shot by the great Caleb Deschanel, who has given the film a sepia tone while emphasizing the color red. Some of the 3D effects are neat — I liked how the vampires’ eyes are subtly heightened, so they always look absolutely crazy — but most of them are terrible. This is one of those movies where the extra, blurry dimension makes everything worse, unintentionally emphasizing every last bit of computer-generated gore and decapitations. The movie has so much CGI, they practically could have slapped a “By Pixar!” label on it. In one long sequence, the vampires attack a steam train carrying a supply of silver to the Union forces at Gettysburg. The set piece should have been a classic. Instead, it just feels like a cutscene from Metal Gear Solid 4.
At least Bekmambetov defies all known laws of physics and gravity, which gives the movie a crazed, anything-can-happen energy. Exactly how does a horse-driven carriage burst through a wall of a huge Southern mansion? Pshaw. Who cares how? Best to not dwell too long on any aspect of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, or you may start to suspect the sneaky Bekmambetov was secretly making a comedy. How can anyone not bust out laughing when Mary yells out “Abraham! We’re going to be late to the theater!”
Cast: Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Director: Timur Bekmambetov.
Screenwriter: Seth Grahame-Smith. Based on his novel.
Producers: Timur Bekmambetov, Tim Burton, Jim Lemley.
A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 105 minutes. Vulgar language, heavy violence, gore. Opens Friday June 22 at area theaters.