ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is the modern-day equivalent of B-movie summer popcorn entertainment. Everyone has a different definition of a B-movie, but to me, the films that fit that bill are COMMANDO, FRIGHT NIGHT, HIGHLANDER, and YOUNG GUNS. These films were inspired made by people who, for better or worse, intended to give their audience a 2-hour escape on a Saturday afternoon at the mall. The filmmakers behind these films may be technically proficient, but they lack the innate talents of master filmmakers like Spielberg, Scorsese, and Cameron. ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is exactly this sort of film. Its not a good movie by any means, but it appeals to our primitive desire for brainless entertainment.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is a fantasy historical tale about our famous log cabin president. In this world, after young Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) watches his mother get killed by vampire Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), he vows to someday kill Barts. Many years later, he finds Barts and attempts to carry out his promise. However, the vampire overpowers Lincoln and Lincoln is rescued by Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper). Sturgess explains to Lincoln that vampires exist and they are everywhere. He offers to train Lincoln to be a vampire hunter, which Lincoln accepts. During his training, Lincoln learns that all vampires in America descend from Adam (Rufus Sewell), a vampire who owns a plantation with his sister, Vadoma (Erin Wasson). After a decade of training, Lincoln finally sets off on his own to Springfield, Illinois. There, he befriends shopkeeper Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson) and meets Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who will someday become his wife. Lincoln ends up finding Barts again and this time he kills him. However, before he dies, Barts reveals that Sturgess is a vampire too. This causes Lincoln to break his friendship with Sturgess and give up vampire hunting altogether. He instead pursues his law practice, marries Mary Todd, and becomes the President of the United States. Of course, the story doesn’t end there when Lincoln discovers that the vampires are about to win the Civil War for the South and overtake the U.S.

The film is based on a best-selling novel by Seth Grahame-Smith (who also wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). I have not read either book, but I get the sense Grahame-Smith is a) not an avid reader of literature and b) his books are primarily written with the intent of turning them into movies. And more power to him. Conceptually, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is a very cool idea despite the massive overexposure of vampires in popular culture. On a broader level, revisionist historical fantasy is an untapped source of great material for movies and I would love to see more of it (a better example of revisionist fantasy history was last year’s X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, which had a different take on the Cuban Missile Crisis). The time period and events covered in ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER also easily lent themselves to an epic storyline. Not only does the film/book tell the story of an iconic figure, but the story involves the long and bloody Civil War that resulted in the abolition of slavery. In the right hands, a film adaptation of this story could have been nothing short of spectacular.

Unfortunately, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER was not entrusted to the right people. Russian director Timur Bekmambetov’s past efforts hardly inspire any confidence that Bekmambetov can do justice to adapting the novel. I have no idea why his Russian fantasy films NIGHT WATCH and DAY WATCH were so popular and the American films he’s been involved in (9, WANTED, APOLLO 18, and THE DARKEST HOUR) are horrendous. The added involvement of Tim Burton as producer lessens the appeal of this film even more. Burton has not been the Burton of old for a very long time and these days it seems like he’s far more concerned with set designs and costumes than telling a coherent story. This may sound a bit jingoistic, but ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER needed an American director at the helm. The story is about American history after all and I think it makes a big difference when the story is told by an American who not only understands American history, but can appreciate it on a visceral level. Just off the top of my head, the following directors would have been much better choices to helm this film: Francis Lawrence, Doug Liman, J.J. Abrams, Michael Mann, and as controversial as he may be, Mel Gibson (I consider him more American than Australian and he was born in the U.S.).

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is not an altogether failure of a movie. As I note above, this is a purely escapist summer B-movie that provides a modicum of fleeting entertainment that will pass the second you get into your car and drive home. In fact, I will go so far as to say that this film is a better film than Ridley Scott’s bloated sci-fi “epic” PROMETHEUS. With PROMETHEUS, you entered that movie with the expectations that come from watching a Ridley Scott movie. Especially when that movie returned Scott to the science-fiction genre that launched his career. That film failed to succeed on every level except its visuals. Here, I had no high expectations because I was already aware of Timur Bekmambetov’s work, the film received poor reviews, and ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER never aspires to reach grand heights. As much as I wish the film intended to attain those heights, it clearly doesn’t (or at least it doesn’t appear that it does). It promises to entertain and many times during the film it fulfills that promise, albeit with accompanying frustrations.

Of anything in ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, I was most surprised by how well actor Benjamin Walker was made to resemble Abe Lincoln (especially during the President’s later years when he took office) and how convincingly he portrayed the President. Steven Spielberg is currently shooting his Abraham Lincoln film (aptly titled LINCOLN), which will star Daniel Day-Lewis as the President. Daniel Day-Lewis is widely regarded as one of the finest actors working today and I’m sure he will give a masterful and Oscar-worthy performance, but it will be interesting to see the qualitative differences in performance between Day-Lewis and Benjamin Walker. I have not seen the actor in anything before, but his work in this film has made a fan out of me and I look forward to his future film work.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is also helped by decent performances from some of the cast. Dominic Cooper, who gave an under-appreciated performance last year as Uday Hussein and his bodyguard double in THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE, deliciously hams it up as Lincoln’s vampire mentor and friend. I got the sense that Cooper took this role on for the paycheck, but not much seems to be required to play the character and a minimal effort, which Cooper gives, seems to be sufficient. A better performance is given by Rufus Sewell as Adam, the film’s main antagonist. Sewell relishes his character’s villainy and he injects a world-weariness attitude into the vampire that signifies the thousands of years Adam has walked the Earth.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER also contains a few scenes that had the filmmakers spent more time developing them, they could have been breathtakingly thrilling. As they are in the film, they are still enjoyable to watch. One scene is not really a scene, but a few montage-y clips showing the tide of the Civil War turning in favor of the South through the help of the vampires. The final Civil War scene shows the North arming its cannons and guns with silver (a vampire’s biggest weakness) and finally defeating the vampires. What little is shown is decently done, but these clips could have formed one long and awesome battle sequence on the scale of the great battle sequences in THE LORD OF THE RINGS. I imagine due to time constraints and budget, we don’t get any of that.

The production seemed to instead have focused on the climactic train sequence. The sequence takes place on a munitions train that is on its way to Gettysburg to deliver silver ammunition to the soldiers. The train is invaded by vampires and the sequence ends with the train crossing a burning bridge that looks pretty spectacular. Some of the action works well, such as the fighting that occurs inside the train car and when the characters attempt to escape the train before it plunges to its fiery demise. However, the beautiful visual effects work and concept of the sequence is dampened somewhat by a lack of imagination in creating any sort of suspense. Never once did I believe the characters would not escape and accomplish their mission. In this scene more than any other, our protagonists seem to be almost invincible against the continuous swarms of vampires that attack them. Because of this, no suspense is created.

Finally, the film has a completely implausible and gravity-defying action sequence where Lincoln faces Jack Barts for the final time. Many of you will probably find this sequence severely testing your suspension of disbelief. However, given how stylistic the whole film is, I wasn’t bothered in the least bit by the fact neither character get trampled by the horses or that they manage to so effortlessly jump from one horse to another as they chase each other down. It’s a sequence that, although not perfect by a long shot, looked beautiful.

So yes, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER has one-note characters, over-the-top set pieces, and a not fully realized plot. But this is what you should expect from a B-movie such as this (I mean just look at the title) that’s directed by Timur Bekmambetov. I wish the case was otherwise and someone had come along and turned this into a massive historical-horror epic. I wish this film was not so conventional and lightweight. However, what’s done is done and this film is not a bad flick to check out at a matinee on a lazy summer afternoon.

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