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Fast-paced plot kills 'Vampire Hunter'

By Russell Axon
On June 23, 2012

Of all the secrets the government has kept from the public, the fact that Abraham Lincoln hunted vampires is perhaps the best kept one -- until now.

At least, that’s what the new film “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” would lead you to believe. And while the premise is laughably ridiculous, watching it played out on the big screen is suprisingly entertaining.

The film chronicles the secret history of the nation’s 16th president as he learns to battle vampires trying to rule the country through slavery. Historic events are revisted with this new perspective, including the death of Lincoln’s mother and son, his interest in politics and the battle of Gettysburg.

Writer Seth Grahame-Smith, who adapted the story from his novel of the same name, makes a lot of clever connections to real history.

Special attention is given to the period setting — the 1800’s, gothic asthetic, likely influenced by producer Tim Burton, creates a dark, moody atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the story moves so rapidly that most of these connections are glossed over and some details are never explicitly explained — how do the vampires survive in sunlight? What happened to Abe’s lawyer career?

Additionally, a handful of the fresh ideas presented in the novel aren’t mentioned in the movie. Much of the narrative is simply used to set up action scenes.

This is definitely where the movie succeeds, no doubt thanks to the direction of Timur Bekmambetov (“Wanted,” “Night Watch”).

There is probably no other movie with ax-fighting choreography as slick as this one. Although the CGI is obvious, the movie’s vampires are menacing and present cool-looking threats which Abe deals with in equally unique ways.

The flying blood and bullets make a 3D viewing almost worth it.

The mixture of unconventional fight scenes and supernatural violence is his specialty, although the results are hit-and-miss — the finale on top of a speeding locomotive is exciting, while the chase scene through a herd of horses is goofy.

This identity crisis may be the movie’s biggest issue; it’s unclear whether the audience should take everything seriously, or enjoy the absurdity of watching of it all.

This problem is intensified by the actors. The cast tries to play it straight throughout the movie, but occasionally even they have trouble believing their own parody.

As Lincoln, relative newcomer Benjamin Walker (“Flags of Our Fathers”) does an admirable job as a 19th century, angsty, kung fu fighting, future president. With his trust issues and dashing looks, this interpretation of Lincoln is prime for a spin-off.

Walker spends a majority of the movie as a young Lincoln, but transitions well in the second half as the older version, despite a mediocre make-up job. For some reason, he’s the only one of the human characters who seems vulnerable to aging.

The same cannot be said for Mary Todd Lincoln, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” “Final Destination 3”) The characters’ developing relationship during the film’s first half is genuinely romantic. The two actors have solid chemistry but it fizzles as Winstead has trouble growing older with the character.

Rufus Sewell and Dominic Cooper fare better as the villainous vampire Adam and Abe’s mentor Henry, respectively. Sewell always manages a compelling, slightly-crazed bad guy, and Cooper’s tragic figure is sympathetic, if not a bit too mysterious.

By the end of it all, it’s those unexplained and rushed over mysteries that weaken the film. The action and effects help it to stand out, but the story feels incomplete, and the characters seem unsure at times of whether they’re in a serious film or a fun, silly movie.

Supporting the film may be good idea, though, for the potential sequel: “Barack Obama: Werewolf Slayer.”

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