The concept behind “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is simple. Take historical events and actions and add vampires to the mix. Shake well, and hope that people appreciate the joke. In the original novel, Seth Grahame-Smith pulled it off by showing readers the grand scope and narrative heft ofLincoln’s life in great detail. But Grahame-Smith bungles his own adaptation by simultaneously providing too much and not enough.
The story, unsurprisingly, is that Abraham Lincoln has some vampires to hunt. After seeing his mother murdered by a vampire, he makes it his life’s mission to hunt the bloodsuckers down one by one. He comes across another crusader, Henry Sturges (an awesome Dominic Cooper), who trainsLincolnand gives him high-profile targets to kill. The head vampire is Adam, played convincingly by Rufus Sewell. Although he realizes the life of a hunter is an isolated one, he can’t help falling for Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). He begins to find his life as a hunter conflicting with his burgeoning romance and political career.
As unfair an accusation as it may be, a big problem with the film is that it is not, in fact, the book. Grahame-Smith’s own screenplay lacks his detailed and engaging prose, and many of his hefty ideas. For example, the parallel between the blood-sucking vampires and the human slave owners who figuratively sucked the blood from an entire race of people, so eloquently explored in the book, is merely hinted at here. Also, many of the great scenes from the book are not even used; instead we get more “movie friendly” set pieces that are ridiculous in their silliness. A fight that takes place atop a stampede of horses is particularly idiotic.
Many critics would not consider it fair to read the book and then criticize the movie for not living up to those standards, and there is definitely some truth to that. But I can’t help but thinking of a movie like “Watchmen” which, flawed as it was, managed to retain the lofty ideas and pivotal scenes from its excellent source material.
So, is the movie good for people who haven’t read the book? Well, things don’t start off too good. Much of the movie is a jumbled mess of half-completed actions scenes, clumsy editing and inconsistent acting. Winstead, who was so good in “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” comes off as an actor trying to play Mary Todd Lincoln. She doesn’t seem to embody the role.
Equally distracting is the uneven visuals. The vampires look great, but the cinematography is excessively dim (even in 2D), and the screen often looks like its been soaked in tar.
But something strange happens about halfway through the movie. It gets, dare I say, good. Not just the story, but the acting. Benjamin Walker, who seems miscast as Abraham Lincoln, suddenly seems to embody the sixteenth president. I still wouldn’t say he looks likeLincoln, but his acting provides an emotional heft that can be surprisingly resonant, particularly in his scenes with Winstead, who also finds her own during the second half, partially due to some good makeup work. AsLincolnmust decide between his crusade and the good of the nation, and where those two overlap, the film finds its pulse. There’s even an actions sequence on a train that is visually stunning and features some excellent action scenes.
Unfortunately, at that point, the movie is pretty much over. Without giving too much away, it ends before the book does. The movie leaves a lot of the plot to the imagination, while focusing too much on gory action that overuses slow-mo to an almost excruciating degree. Is it fair to ask for a more detailed and less rushed plot from a movie like this, source material notwithstanding? I think so, but maybe I’m being too harsh.
“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is never anything less than ridiculously silly, but never anything less than entertaining, either. Alas, despite being filled with vampires, the movie never really gets the blood pumping. But, during the second half in particular, it is probably better than it has any right to be. That doesn’t make it good, but…it’s something.