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Family Movie Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (R)

AbrahamLincolnVampireHunterFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalhalf-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: R     Length: 105 minutes

Appropriate for ages 15 and up. The movie earns its R rating with a smattering of swear words and buckets of (mostly computer-generated) blood. Let your game console be your guide: if your household is tolerant of “M for Mature” horror video games, then this blood sport will be familiar—and maybe even a little bland—to older teen audiences.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has the ironic premise of a Tumblr meme and the frenetic pace and Plasticene texture of a video game. Unfortunately, it’s neither clever nor silly enough to effectively meld the two into a monster worth watching.

By Jared Peterson

For years now, everywhere you look it’s been vampires and werewolves and zombies. Oh my, how we’ve surrendered our time and money to the bleeding and brooding undead. But recently, this fantasy infestation began to spill over into other genres, perhaps signaling the true death knell of a pop-culture trend. 

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, based on a novel of the same tongue-in-cheek name, conjures for our 16th President a hidden diary containing a secret history. It begins when little Abe Lincoln loses his mother to a bizarre, blood borne disease imparted by a wrathful vampire. As a young man, Abe (the appropriately lanky Benjamin Walker) is recruited by the pale and mysterious Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) to be an anonymous assassin of the undead. Fuelled by revenge, the Rail Splitter becomes a head splitter, slicing and splattering his way through their unholy ranks.

Of course, Abe still takes the path we’ve all read about in history class—well, sort of. He meets and marries Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)—who first appears, conveniently, on the arm Stephen Douglas (Alan Tudyk)—and diligently works his way from log cabin to law office and all the way to the White House. He also occasionally fights bloodsucking hellspawn with inexplicable kung fu moves and a silver-coated axe. Luckily for us, Honest Abe’s two hatreds, vampires and slavery, are linked—the South’s nightwalkers, under the direction of a millennia-old vampire maker (Rufus Sewell), have been running the slave trade all along, as a source for forced labor and [ick] free meals.

Director Timur Bekmambetov has a fondness for Matrix-style slow-mo and a throwback attitude toward 3-D—he’s not shy about hurling bullets, axes and snarling vampire jaws straight at you. Even more than most action movies of the last few years, Vampire Hunter has the look and feel of a video game, complete with implausible showdowns, impossible camera moves and endless legions of faceless and blood-filled enemies.

Also like a game, the movie features interstitial scenes that seem to interrupt the action, as characters mete out convenient exposition and intone melodramatic motivation. Writer Seth Grahame-Smith, who adapted the screenplay from his novel, kicked off the mini-trend of literary monster mash-ups in 2009 with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Like many self-adapters, he may have become too enamored of the relative space and license afforded by the novel format. In any case, the “dramatic” scenes bog the film down, so much so that it’s tempting to fumble around for a game controller and skip straight to the good stuff.

That Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter plays fast and loose with history is a given, and it’d be unsporting to hold its exaggerations against it. Still, it was a little hard to watch certain aspects of our nation’s darkest hour injected with such faddish themes. When slavery doubles as a gruesome buffet and our heroes are miraculously saved by Harriet Tubman, laughs easily turn to snickers and groans.

As it stands, the current cycle of vampire mania has been hovering over us for quite a while now, thirstily sucking money from our pockets and time from our TV, movie and (credit where it’s due) reading schedules. And we know that, sooner or later, someone or something is going to have to take a stake to this pop-culture monster. Maybe, finally, this avenging Abraham Lincoln will be our emancipator and this Vampire Hunter—at least for a while—a vampire killer.

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