On Movies: 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' is luridly entertaining
Perhaps you were not aware that vampires played a major role in the battle of Gettysburg, nor that Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, were both on hand for that fabled military engagement. Those are just a couple of the many extraordinary things you will learn from the luridly entertaining “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”
Some of the things you learn are actually true: Mary Todd really was courted by Illinois politician and future Lincoln opponent Stephen Douglas before she fell for Abe, even if the meeting of the three early in the movie does seem like a convenient dramatic device.
On the other hand, chances are that Abraham Lincoln’s mother was not killed by a vampire. That’s the premise of the movie, and the tragedy sets young Abe (Benjamin Walker) off on a lifelong secret mission to rid the nation of the blood-sucking undead. In league with “good vampire” Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper), Abe the former rail-splitter dispatches vampire after vampire with a few acrobatic swings of a silver-tipped axe, and then buries the bodies to hide the evidence.
Meanwhile, Abe works as a shopkeeper, becomes a lawyer, and gets into politics. He ends up in the White House and at war with the South, a section of the nation that turns out to be infested with vampires, all of whom have their beady, red-rimmed eyes on the millions of tender necks of the North. Pretty soon, in battle scenes, you can’t tell the vampires from the Confederate soldiers until the undead open their mouths with deafening shrieks and display their sharp, blood-rimmed fangs.
The vampires, headed by Rufus Sewell as the imperious Adam and Erin Wasson as the sultry Vadona, are a clever bunch, and eventually they figure out who is wielding that killing axe, setting up the final battle. It takes place, in part, in a spectacular chase on a train crossing a burning bridge.
“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” based on a popular novel, was produced by Tim Burton and directed by Timur Bekmambetov. The talented Russian filmmaker first came to notice with “Night Watch,” a rousing, brilliantly edited vampire movie set in the grungy streets and back alleys of Moscow. He’s a wizard at putting together brief but punchy action scenes that convey a lot of mayhem with a few seconds of bold images and fast cuts.
The first half or so of the movie, with Abe battling monsters in the woods and byways of Illinois, is impeccably assembled and viscerally compelling. The second half, as Abe rises to the White House, tends to be a bit slower and more sentimental.
Skilled Hollywood veteran Caleb Deschanel (father of TV stars Emily and Zooey), who shot “The Right Stuff” and “The Natural,” was the cinematographer. I mention that because there are several large-scale action scenes that are remarkably filmed. The most impressive one shows Abe chasing a vampire through an enormous stampede, the two of them hopping on and off horses as the animals gallop across a prairie. One suspects the filmmakers did not have a very large budget for retakes or for computer graphics – the horses kick up an inordinate amount of dust, obscuring our view and providing a large fudge factor. In any event, the scene is a rouser, and the movie, despite a few slow and hokey interludes in the second half, is a lot of fun.
Opens Friday June 22
'Seeking a Friend for the End of the World'
Stanley Kubrick (“Dr. Strangelove”) and the Coen brothers (“A Simple Man”), among others, have memorably wrenched laughs out of imminent mass destruction.
First-time writer-director Lorene Scafaria tries to do the same thing, without much success, for the first half hour of the waiting-for-the-apocalypse movie “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.”
The traveling doomsday frat party she stages feels too much like a series of Will Ferrell routines, but once the slapstick is out of the way, the film settles down and turns into an intermittently touching if formulaic romance.
Steve Carell plays Dodge, a mopy insurance agent whose wife is missing; Keira Knightley is Penny, bubbly but filled with self-doubt. With less than three weeks to go before an asteroid ends life on earth, the two embark on a journey together, seeking people out of their past. Of course, they find each other.
Opens Friday June 22