Monday, July 9, 2012

Man on Film: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Before I get into Honest Abe committing many acts of violence with a silver-tipped ax, I'd like to apologize for not being active enough around here. For the past eight months or so, the goal has been to have daily content up here. It's a lofty goal, and unfortunately one that my general lack of free time does not always allow me to meet. Shane helped out a bit last week, but that was on his own volition and out of the kindness of his heart. Thanks. I'm going to attempt to get content up for the week, including getting the next Wordy Old Men on Downton Abbey piece up on its regularly scheduled day of Wednesday. This piece has been delayed entirely by my inability to finish it. Again, I apologize and hope to rectify things this week, but it will be a challenge. Moving on...

I toyed with the notion of reviewing this film as though it were a sincere biopic, but I simply do not have the energy. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was fun. I would argue that it was stupid fun, but given the amount of historical research that Seth Grahame-Smith actually put into writing the novel and then screenplay that it was based upon, that seems a bit reductive. For the viewer, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is an easy mindless ride. Neither Grahame-Smith nor Kazakhstani director Timur Bekmambetov have delusions about what the film is. Since the story recasts the 16th President of the United States of America, The Great Emancipator, as an ax-slinging vampire hunter, any other approach would justify their institutionalization.

Given Lincoln's iconic visage, Bekmambetov and Company were sort of painted into a corner casting-wise. Apparently, Benjamin Walker beat out Adrien Brody, Josh Lucas, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and the similarly tall and interesting looking James D'Arcy. For the most part, he's likable enough to root for, though he is lacking a bit in the gravitas department, leading to both the recreation of an argument on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives with Stephen A. Douglas and the delivery of the Gettysburg Address falling a bit flat. I suppose this is all immaterial, as the most important thing he is called upon to do he does with grace and elan: wielding a goddamn ax. The rest of the cast is perfectly suitable. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a charming and surprisingly comely Mary Todd. Anthony Mackie and Jimmi Simpson were solid as his confidants William Johnson and Joshua Speed, and Dominic Cooper was magnetic as his mentor, Henry Sturgess. And somehow Rufus Sewell's eyes are less crazy than usual, even though he is a bloodthirsty vampire determined to quash abolition to keep his food supply in tact.

All this being said, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter doesn't always look good. As anyone who saw Wanted can attest to, Bekmambetov isn't the most consistent director in terms of special effects. There are scenes like the fight at the plantation house that look sleek and sexy, and then there are scenes like the fight with his nemesis Jack Barts amidst a stampede of horses that look godawful. The aging make-up on Honest Abe and Mary Todd is also laughably bad--like almost as bad as the make-up at the end of the last Harry Potter movie. There are also standard, effects-free scenes that simply look cheap. I don't have any illusions about what this film was supposed to be, but one wonders where the ~$70 million budget went when scenes on the street in the daylight look like shit.

For the most part, though, this was an enjoyable film. It was a marked improvement on the utter horseshit that was Wanted, if for no other reason than that it was actually fun. Sure, it is far from being flawless, but its warts can be stomached, and you actually come out of the film having been amused.

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