Midway through Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter our hero-- yes, the very same 16th President-- goes in pursuit of the man he's wanted to kill since he was a child, a vampire (played by Marton Csokas) who killed young Abe's mother. The vampire flees to a field where, for whatever reason, a band of wild horses begin to stampede; Abe chases the super-powered vampire, who flings a horse at him at one point, and the chase eventually has them running across the backs of horses until they tumble over a cliff (in central Illinois, mind you) and Abe has his vengeance at last.
This scene, filmed in the CGI-created golden light of magic hour and conceived by Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, may be the most American thing I've ever seen in my life. It's loud, it's crass, it's faux-reverent of the past, and it's completely confident in its utter ridiculousness. It's a shallow simulacrum of the actual peaks of bombastic American filmmaking-- your Michael Bays, your James Camerons-- but in a way that only makes it more amusing. Abraham Lincoln is a folly from top to bottom, a dead-serious retelling of an utterly preposterous story, with action scenes so choppy and inauthentic they make Michael Bay look like John Cassavetes. But it is also, in its brassy American way, endearing, like the guy who shows up to the Fourth of July picnic in the American flag shirt and somehow becomes the life of the party anyway.
Your mileage, as with any movie crammed with unintentional laughter, may vary, but there are performances and some spectacular fight choreography that ought to keep anyone's interest. Benjamin Walker, who electrified audiences in Broadway's Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, is toned down to a fault as Abraham Lincoln, but he commits with a real gravitas, and looks perfectly the part in the old age makeup later in the film (Greg Cannom, who won an Oscar for the makeup in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, does similarly excellent work here). Walker is surrounded by a laundry list of welcome supporting players from Anthony Mackie and Dominic Cooper as his partners in various anti-vampire crimes to Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd (girls, as is usually the case with these kinds of movies, don't get to have much fun). Alan Tudyk pops up briefly as Stephen Douglas, which is hilarious, and Jimmi Simpson is appealingly shifty as another pal, Joshua Speed, who gives Abe his first job working as a store clerk.
Outshining all of them, Walker included, is Rufus Sewell as the vampire plantation owner Adam, with a Southern drawl and evil gleam that screams for its own Anne Rice movie. You see, in the version of the Civil War envisioned by Seth Grahame-Smith in the original novel (he adapted the screenplay as well), the South was run by vicious slave-owning vampires, and only Abraham Lincoln and a select group of vampire hunters knew the truth. The screenplay only hints at the obvious reasons vampires would be invested in slavery-- i.e., a food source-- and the film is pretty unconvincing as a revision of Civil War-era politics, or as anything but an excuse to send Abe swinging his silver-tipped axe through undead hordes.
The action scenes are the film's entire selling point, and while Walker, Mackie and Sewell all get impressively physical, Bekmambetov swings the camera around them so quickly you often can't see them at all. The film is drowning in CGI effects, which are fun in a ridiculous way sometimes-- a big final scene set on a flaming train, for instance-- and merely exhausting in most scenes. There's nothing in the action here that feels special, or not done better in Bekmambetov's own Wanted, and the movie never has a convincing answer for exactly why we needed to put Honest Abe through all this. But you know what? This is America, where massively expensive Hollywood follies were invented. Only one country could have created Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and dammit, that's a country I'm proud to be part of. USA! USA!
Reviewed By: Katey Rich
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