* (out of four)
If “history prefers legends to men,” as “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” claims, wouldn't history books have been delighted to include the legend of the time a vampire picked up a horse and threw it at one of the country's most renowned leaders?
Adapted by writer Seth Grahame-Smith from his novel, “Vampire Hunter” is, of course, historical fiction, which to some means “clever twist on reality” and to me generally means “cheap excuse to exploit people too dead to complain.” The movie (from “Wanted” director Timur Bekmambetov) doesn't even get completely, deliriously bizarre, so at least the story would seem to recognize its own absurdity and go for fun with both feet off the ground. No, this plays out mostly as straight-faced alternate history, as if Abraham Lincoln still walked and talked and behaved generally as we've always heard—just that when he was taking down the South, he was battling both Confederates and vampires.
Benjamin Walker, who looks more like Liam Neeson than Lincoln (and played a younger version of Neeson's title character in “Kinsey”), stars as the Great Emancipator, who also was apparently great at driving an axe into the skull of the undead. Abe’s vampire-hunting mentor Henry (Dominic Cooper) insists Lincoln not develop any friends or family in 1837 Springfield, but that doesn't deter the tall action-hero-in-training from taking a shine to Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who’s currently tied to future Lincoln debate opponent Stephen Douglas (Alan Tudyk). Douglas actually did court Todd, as it turns out, so put one mark on the board for something real that “Vampire Hunter” taught me about Lincoln’s life.
Something the movie glosses over, among other things, is how the man successfully ran for president in the midst of a crusade against vampires. Who is the audience for this voiceover-heavy, 3-D garbage? Both history buffs and vampire hounds will be bored stiff.
It might all be harmless nonsense if not for the film's ignorant notion that all men are slave to something. There’s a big difference between a figurative slave and a literal one. For example, Lincoln's convictions and lust for vengeance, to which he's supposedly a slave, won't physically abuse him.
Grahame-Smith can write “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” or “Romeo and Juliet and Frankenstein” or whatever lazy stories he wants to mash together because he has two ingredients and no original recipes. Once you start dealing with real people and major world events, you're not encouraging education, just pointlessly and offensively obscuring truth. Where does it end? “Franklin D. Roosevelt: Phone Sex Operator?” “Rosa Parks: Breakdance Champion?” It’s much more fun to come up with these idiotic concepts than to actually watch them.
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