01/07/2012. Contributed by Frank Ochieng
There was certainly an opportunity missed when conceiving the concocted irreverence behind the historical horror actioner Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer. Naturally the handlers behind his haunting hogwash wanted to tap into an offbeat joke about showcasing the 16th American president of the United States kicking some walking undead blood-sucking butt.
Sure, the premise is wacky enough to be cheesy and outrageously off-kilter. Good ole Honest Abe hunting down some ravenous rascals while taking down names and numbers. Watch out Buffy…there’s a new vampire slayer on our cinematic radar screen.
As inspired in weirdness as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer wants to be in surrealistic spirit, the jokey gesture wanes thus giving this gory gimmick the boot. Admittedly, the movie’s catchy title deserves a hearty chuckle. Mining nervous laughs out of witnessing John Wilkes Booth taking target practice with a plastic water gun at the Ford Theater might questionably suffice in comparison to Lincoln’s anaemic screenplay.
Nevertheless, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer is about as gripping as Xeroxing the entire Gettysburg Address on colored construction paper. Somehow picturing Lincoln wielding an axe on vampires instead of logs for a cosy makeshift cabin makes for some outlandish and loose-minded liberties to digest as reasonable camp. It is too bad that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer delivers this sluggish sentiment in such a tepid fashion.
Based on screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith’s (2009’s “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”) book, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer introduces us to a youthful Abraham Lincoln. The film focuses on his coming-of-age experiences that offset the turbulent times he is enduring in his formative years. Lincoln harps on the psychological effect caused by the connection of his mother’s death at the dastardly influence of a retaliatory vampire. Hence young Abe has understandably grown cynical of the fanged fiends that shaped his emotional and mental torment.
Because of circumstances that involved Abe’s black friend being racially harassed, the future commander-in-chief boldly stands up to the oppressing masses. Unfortunately for Abe, he ticked off the wrong individual that conveniently happened to be a vampire. In reactionary fashion, the cold-blooded cretin killed young Lincoln’s mother as payback. Of course this sets up Abraham Lincoln’s destiny as a revenging eliminator of the dubious demons and emancipator of the vulnerable.
As Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) turns into a strapping specimen, his mission is clear: he too is out for blood much like the vampire vermin he seeks out eagerly. Abe eventually hooks up with a professional vampire hunter named Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) who methodically shows the future prez the ropes in eradicating the pesky vampires at will. Through gruelling training, Lincoln learns to utilise his silver ax for some mandatory slaughtering.
It is very advantageous for Henry to have young Mr. Lincoln at his side as they try to demolish the deceiving blood-loving bandits. Lincoln, whose upstart career as a politician with power can come in handy when dealing with resident vampire warlord Adam (Rufus Sewell), dutifully engages in the art of wreaking havoc as every bloody swing of his busy silver axe chops, slices, dices and maims his deadly rabble-rousers. The stovepipe hat-wearing Lincoln ( a.k.a “The Rail-Splitter”) is all business as he makes unbelievable mincemeat out of his sworn enemies.
The head-scratching vibe behind Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer is quite belabored in that the film does not seem to address properly its intrinsic makeup. Does it want to be cheeky in its ferocious frolicking of sensationalised splattering? And if so then why does the movie feel the need to take itself too seriously hence spoiling whatever creepy campiness it was trying to lay Lincoln’s hat on?
The promising story angle concerning Lincoln’s angst-ridden outlook on his disregard for slavery at the hands of vitriolic vampires in an era of abolitionist outrage had the potential for some mighty satirical luggage ranging from Lincoln’s sanctimonious political reputation to historical intolerance of bigotry and rampaging bloody-biters. Disappointingly, the movie fails to gel cohesively to capture the kooky outrageousness of its varying themes.
The uneven collaboration of Russian director Timur Bekmambetov and off-kilter filmmaker Tim Burton (wearing his producer cap for AL:VS) does not seem to resonate soundly for even a featherweight comic book caper with transparent contention. Some arbitrary digital special effects wizardry, plastic performances and diluted dialogue only renders Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer as a brainless boofest instead of the subversive supernatural spectacle it was intended to be in conception.
Relentlessly disposable and absurd, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer may figure to be the mindless escapism that expects the audience to appreciate its throwaway in-joke nonsense with a stiffened Walker’s Liam Neeson look-a-like Lincoln swinging an overactive mean ax in the name of jolting justice en route to the White House.
In the long run, a perplexing Abe eliminating roguish vampires in grainy bloodbaths is probably preferable to the prospect of witnessing Mary Todd’s 3 P.M. bikini wax appointment, right?
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer (20th Century Fox)
1 hr. 45 mins.
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Dominic Cooper
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: Action Adventure/Horror/Historical Supernatural/Science Fiction
Critic’s Rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)
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