abraham lincoln, action, anthony mackie, bejamin walker, caleb deschanel, civil war, dominic cooper, erin wasson, horror, joshua fry speed, liam neeson, mary elizabeth winstead, rufus sewell, seth grahame-smith, timur bekmambetov, true blood, vampire hunter, vampires
“The Exsanguination Proclamation”
Grade: D (SKIP IT)
WHAT A PITY that “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” fails to live up to the fun of its name. This deadly dull take on the American icon and vampirism’s imagined complicity in nineteenth-century slavery comes from the horror novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote the screenplay here, and Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (“Wanted,” “Day Watch”). But long before the runaway train carrying Abe (Benjamin Walker) and arch-enemy Adam (Rufus Sewell) crosses a burning bridge at the film’s climax, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” derails into a whole stockpile of horror film clichés. If you opt for the 3-D version, prepare yourself for at least a dozen shots, compliments of cinematography Caleb Deschanel (Zooey’s papa), of a piranha-mouthed vampire swallowing his close-ups whole. This is just as tiresome as the Civil War battlefield scenes which dispense with the realities of actual warfare and mobilize instead an onslaught of CGI simulacra.
The film’s narrative is conventionally chronologic: we see the bushy-bearded president in middle-age in the Oval Office, penning his memoirs, before we flashback to 1818 and the waterside set of “Anaconda.” A young Abe passionately defends his black friend Will (a wasted Anthony Mackie) from Jack Barts, the first piranha-mouthed bloodsucker played by Marton Csokas. When Barts drains his mother in her sleep, the aspiring lawyer vows revenge on the undead roaming in Indiana. (Lincoln’s real mother, Nancy, died of tremetol vomiting in 1818 when Lincoln was just nine years old.) Vampirism is such a fetish in contemporary culture – think of Bella and Edward’s virginal antics or the queerish hedonism of HBO’s “True Blood” – that it always involves some sacred sort of initiation ceremony, and here, Henry Sturgess (played by up-stager Dominic Cooper) opens Lincoln’s eyes to all things vampiric, from the silver-edged axes he’ll need to slay them to the powerful cult led by Adam and sidekick Vadoma (Erin Wasson). But whose side is he on?
Refreshingly, there’s a bit of bromance at play between Abe and Henry, perhaps a playful take on Lincoln’s romantic friendship with Joshua Fry Speed, the leader’s lifelong friend and “partner,” in the literal sense, at the general store they ran together in Springfield, Illinois. One has to wonder why it is Henry’s voice that comes to Lincoln’s mind when he kisses his future first lady, Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). But this is the only whiff of transgression in “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” which, fatally, had the potential for campy humor but takes itself too seriously by following the rules. What can we do but laugh when we see the sixteenth president of the U.S.A., Benjamin Walker, who bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Liam Neeson, wielding an axe and splitting heads like they’re watermelons? If only Grahame-Smith and Bekmambetov had milked that absurdity for crimson laughs and not the black blood that repetitively splatters the screen.
If only this bloodless time-waster came with its very own John Wilkes Booth to sneak up behind you in the theatre and put you out of your misery.