The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

I was surprised as anyone how much I loved Seth Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. That's right...loved. Yes, the idea of one of America's most famous presidents a vampire hunter? The horror! Go figure that the book is original, unique, creative, innovative and a damn entertaining read, one of the better books I've read in years. I tried to tell as many fellow readers as I could that you should not judge a book by its cover. If you like history, Lincoln, or just being entertained, please give the book a try. It was that good.

My obvious concern then when I saw the movie trailer was simple. All my concerns I had going into the book? Yeah, they were very much present in the movie. So there, just wanted to get this out there now at the beginning of the review. I loved the book, and even with the awful trailer, I had some high expectations going into the movie. The transition from novel to film is atrocious, and the review will reflect that. Maybe people who haven't read the book will enjoy the movie -- that's for readers/viewers to decide -- but this was an awful movie. So anyways, here goes, 2012's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

As a young boy growing up with his family in 1820s Indiana, Abe Lincoln is traumatized and deeply affected by the death of his mother at the hands of a vampire. He grows up, swearing he will exact revenge on the vampire, but once there, Abe (Benjamin Walker) finds out it's not so easy to destroy a vampire. Barely surviving, Abe is rescued by the mysterious Henry (Dominic Cooper) who begins to teach him how to destroy vampires, become a vampire hunter. Abraham is a fast learner, and quickly enough Henry has him dispatching vampire after vampire. But as he continues to age, Abraham seems destined for bigger and better things as America changes, a Civil War looming. The future President must make a choice; continue hunting vampires or start a family. Could the right answer be both?

High expectations are one thing, but this movie is a trainwreck from the start. Director Timur Bekmambetov (of the similarly trainwreck-y Wanted) and Grahame-Smith's script has managed to strip and dumb down a source novel that seemed as close to a "Gimme" as any book I've ever read. Reading the book, it was easy to see certain scenes making the jump to the big screen, especially the ominous opening in modern times, the tweaking of history we've all read about, and the double-edged sword ending. Even if the movie sucked, I thought maybe...just maybe, those little touches could save it. Like so much else with this movie, I was very, very and completely wrong. So anyways.....

My first thought -- as mentioned above -- is that viewers who haven't read the book will enjoy it more. Other than the fact that Abe does in fact kill some vampires, there is no unifying link between the two mediums. But this isn't a book review, it's a movie review. The Wall Street Journal review says it should be fun, or at least smart. And it's neither. It's too serious for its own good. When it's not painfully overdone, it comes across as a bloody cartoon. 'Hunter' takes itself too seriously from the word 'Go' and never lets up. Things degenerate quickly, bad acting, horrifically obvious CGI, and a story that gets dumber by the minute handicapping this possible blockbuster.

Playing maybe the most famous President in U.S. history is no doubt a huge task, but Walker leaves little to no impression as Abraham Lincoln at any age. He has limited range, never giving us any reason to even be remotely interested in him. Cooper looks bored as Henry, Abe's teacher who has his own bloody secrets from his past. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is miscast as Mary Todd, Abe's wife and the love of his life, given a chance to overact in one scene that's laughable in its execution. Anthony Mackie and Jimmi Simpson are relative bright spots as Will and Speed, two of Abe's closest friends who know his deepest, darkest secrets. Rufus Sewell and Erin Wasson are Adam and Vedonna, the vampire leader and his sexy minion, wrapping up a small cast that screams for any sort of development...or additional characters. Something, anything to make it more interesting, but that's the problem. The idea/premise (poorly executed though it is) overshadows any sort of interest in the characters.

Unable to pick a tone, an ending, a goal, 'Hunter' drifts along aimlessly, sort of knowing where it wants to go....but not really. Instead in this 105-minute movie, we get repetitive shots of Abe battling vampires in slow-motion that get tedious by the second attack or so. That's never a good sign when there are 20, 25 to go. But that's the problem. The tone is undecided. The mood is cartoonish. The overabundance of CGI is painfully obvious, not the seamless blend even average CGI can be. The "epic Civil War battle scenes" are over in seconds. One vampire hunt has Abe tracking down his mother's killer (Marton Csokas) in a horse stampede, probably the most laughable scene in the whole movie. Wait, I can't say that. I can't pick just one scene as the most laughable. That's just too large a task.

Here is one example of a script and story just not thinking things through. At the battle of Gettysburg, the Confederacy uses battalions of vampire soldiers that wreak havoc on Union forces unable to kill these undead soldiers. Seeing the casualty reports, Abe figures out his soldiers need silver bullets, cannon balls, knives and bayonets. Stripping Washington D.C. of all its silver, Abe, Will and Speed smelt all those things in a few hours, put them on board a train and get all this needed materiel to Gettysburg the next morning. Oh, by the way, they fight off a huge vampire attack aboard a flaming train. Clever is one thing, moving along the story for the sake of doing so another, and just stupidly wrapping things up a whole other review. Worst of all, it doesn't know how to end, completely disregarding Lincoln's assassination (one of the more clever parts of the book) and ruining Grahame-Smith's pristine, pitch perfect final scene. What do we get instead? A lackluster finish that lands with a thud.

Here's the big picture though, and this takes out consideration for readers and non-readers. It is a mind-blowingly stupid movie. The action is one mindless Matrix sequence after another with gallons of CGI blood filling the screen. The characters are stupid, uninteresting, and cardboard cutouts. It dumbs down an extremely interesting idea to the first thought I had of this concept.....Abe Lincoln killing vampires? That just sounds awful, and it is. Horrible movie that doesn't even come close to touching the book's potential. Give this one a wide berth.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter <---trailer (2012): */****

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