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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

June 26, 2012

As I’ve said before, I’m willing to give a lot of leeway for a ridiculous premise. I liked both Snakes On a Plane and Cowboys & Aliens, after all. And so I’m not going to casually dismiss Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter out of hand just because it has a ridiculous premise. No, I’m going to dismiss it because it is, in fact, a terrible movie.

The premise is pretty much right there in the name: Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker), in addition to presiding over the country during the Civil War, hunted vampires. It starts when he seeks revenge for his mother’s murder and expert hunter Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) takes him under his wing, telling him about the thousands of vampires building an empire in the American south, led by one Adam (Rufus Sewell), heavily implied to be the one from Genesis.

Through a number of montages we see Abraham’s early career in Springfield. We watch him pick up his childhood friend, Will (Anthony Mackie), and his new friend, Speed (Jimmi Simpson), and even steal Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) from Stephen Douglas (Alan Tudyk, wisely not appearing in the credits). And then we flash forward to the war and have a bunch more disjointed, ill-considered scenes.

It didn’t really have to be awful, really. In principle, the idea of a secret side of a well-known story, fusing a historical biopic with a vampire action movie could be an interesting exercise. The catch is in the execution, and the execution here is a tedious, plodding, unwieldy mess. First and foremost, any movie with a premise this ridiculous must be fun, and this one just isn’t.

It almost seems too obvious to complain about historical accuracy — obviously none of this really happened — but they could have at least made an effort. The only things this story has in common with the actual life of Abraham Lincoln are a few names and places; even their relationships bear no resemblance to the truth. Seth Grahame-Smith’s screenplay — adapted from his own novel, which I must admit haven’t read — shows a thirteen-year-old boy’s command of history, and not a particularly studious one’s at that. At least, I hope it’s sheer ignorance that leads to laying blame for both slavery and the extermination of Native Americans off on vampires instead of, well, us.

In fact, that’s about the level of everything in the movie, from the dialogue to the action choreography. It plays like bad fan-fiction, where stuff is just thrown together because each individual ingredient seems like it might be cool, but with no concern for how to structure the whole to actually make them cool. For amateur creators this isn’t an uncommon way of doing things; I could tell the story of a particularly noxious “soup” a friend and I once created using a similar procedure. Come to think of it, we were probably around thirteen ourselves. But the key point is this: I didn’t expect the results to be served at Nobu.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, as an amateurish distraction posted on the internet, may be a silly piece of fun; I’ve certainly seen worse home-brewed Star Trek and Harry Potter spinoffs out there. But all of Tim Burton’s production and Timur Bekmambetov’s direction — even considering his original stereographic trick with the vampires’ eyes — can’t make writing this bad work as a movie.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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