Though it sounds like it was pitched at the tail-end of a particularly cynical, three-day, coke-fuelled marketing strategy session in between Transformers with Boobs and The Voice: The Movie, feature film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was actually devised by best-selling author Seth Grahame-Smith. Also the man behind Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, he clearly has a passion for joke titles. The name is meant to inspire snickers, but Grahame-Smith (who acts as screenwriter here), director Timur Bekmambetov, and the entire cast do treat the idea of Honest Abe hacking away at the undead with grave solemnity. As if that were the appropriate response.
Neither deadpan nor ironic enough to actually be funny, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter can only fall back on the presumed awesomeness of its core concept. And even that is a wild disappointment. The picture is predicated on a false premise: that Lincoln’s life would be more interesting and exhilarating if a bunch of blood-sucking vamps were revealed to be his true enemies. Never mind that the 16th President of the United States is one of the single most fascinating figures in all of history, having lived a life of massive importance, the ramifications of which ring on throughout the ages. Turning him into the protagonist of a humourless, half-rate Underworld or Resident Evil knock-off is not an improvement.
Benjamin Walker struggles valiantly against the material, playing Abe from the age of 19 to 56, and having to twirl an axe and wear increasingly unconvincing age make-up every year in between. With his Liam Neeson-esque build and affable charm, you could imagine him portraying the POTUS rather proudly in another not-awful and slightly more accurate biopic. This must be what it feels like to score the role of Hamlet in one of those terrible modern day adaptations set in Gangland Chicago or Melbourne.
Dare I devote an entire paragraph to the plot, when the title itself was able to concisely break it down to four words? Abe witnesses his mother’s murder at the hands of a vampire and plots his revenge. Only under the tutelage of mysterious Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), however, does he develop the skills to battle the inhuman creatures. As the decades pass, he marries Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, seriously slumming it), and runs for President, seeking out and dismantling a series of vamps along the way. Then, the Civil War happens, and the King of the Vampires, Adam (Rufus Sewell), sides with the Confederate army to ensure slavery isn’t abolished and their food supply cut off, and I’m so bored I can’t even bring myself to finish that sentence. Go read Sarah Vowell’s excellent book Assassination Vacation and then immediately watch Buffy if you’re so desperate to have these disparate elements mashed together in your brain.
Bekmambetov proved he had absolutely no grasp of self-aware humour in Wanted, but watching him take this mess so seriously is even more disheartening. The titular beasts seem torn straight from the old House of the Dead arcade video game, and the action sequences are ludicrous and laughable without once inspiring joy or admiration (Lincoln engages his mother’s killer in a foot chase over the tops of stampeding CGI horses, and the less said about the fight atop a rollicking locomotive the better). There’s nothing wrong with some smartly executed revisionist history; Quentin Tarantino pulled it off in his Inglourious Basterds. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’s lone achievement is that it is, in fact, dumber than its title.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter arrives in Australian cinemas August 2, 2012.