There is something perversely amusing about watching a pulpy B-grade movie doggedly pursue extreme historical revisionism. That’s not just because Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is based on ‘real-life’ events that, in the unlikely case you require clarification, didn’t actually transpire. It also applies a revisionist technique to storytelling, using the largely modern conceit of conjoining two seemingly incompatible narratives and revelling in the mash-up.
The title is as high concept as they come, the perfect pithy description of what lies in store for audiences should they choose to don the now blood-stained top hat and observe how and why the Emancipation Proclamation came to be and who the true enemies of the American Civil War were. Director Timur Bekmambetov reinvents Honest Abe, 16th president of the US of A, as a fighting machine on assignment to track down fanged fiends and send them to hell using an axe dipped in melted silver.
Young Liam Neeson lookalike Lux Haney-Jardine stars as the remodelled man of the moment, who as a wee tyke witnesses his mother being murdered by a blood sucker and grows up with a tumor-sized chip on his shoulder. After an unsuccessful attempt to avenge ma, Abe takes tutorials from a mysterious fellow named Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who wears sleek dark shades that seem to have been plucked from the year 3000.
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Sturgess teaches him how to slay vampires (in short: carry a pocket full of sand to throw around lest they turn invisible and keep twirling your axe) and Lincoln goes to a pre-Moe’s Tavern Springfield, where he works a retail job during the day and gets his hands dirty at night.
Adapted by Seth Grahame Smith from his own novel, the story attempts draw a correlation between anti-abolitionists and slavery but doesn’t have the gumption to make it resonate. No shots, for example, of slaves getting their blood sucked by white people with sharp teeth and vitamin D deficiencies. The link remains tenuous at best.
If The Matrix turned the humble spoon into an enduring visual motif for the cinematic dinner table, Vampire Hunter attempts to do the same with a fork, and there’s a lovely interpretative essay on recurring use of cutlery (mostly silver, of course) lingering here for film crit students with too much time on their hands.
Bekmambetov understands that when expectations are this low — audiences will want something fun and that’s about it — the key is to keep it fast and snappy. Vampire Hunter makes a decent fist of it, with amusingly loopy dialogue delivered deadpan and some slick and occasionally inventive action scenes.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’s Australian theatrical release date: August 2, 2012.