The life of Abraham Lincoln (Walker), the stock boy-turned-lawyer-turned-politician-turned-crusading President, who was also, it turns out, recruited by a mysterious Brit (Cooper) to hunt and kill vampires perpetuating the slave trade, and thereby their blood supply.
When Kazakh director Timur Bekmambetov broke through in 2004 with the hyper-stylish horror-actioner Night Watch, there was a tingling hope that his talents would not only translate to, but also invigorate, the Hollywood machine. His English-language debut, Wanted, with its ballistic balletics and gloriously eccentric touches (The Loom Of Fate?!) hit the spot. The signs, then, were good for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, especially as it wove in a fun-sounding mash-up concept (courtesy of Pride And Prejudice And Zombies scribbler Seth Grahame-Smith) and an attention-grabbing producer credit for Tim Burton.
Those signs, it turns out, were as reliable as putting a billboard announcing “Indoor Play Centre” outside Dracula’s Castle. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a steam-locomotive wreck (which, funnily enough, features an actual steam-locomotive wreck caused by — possible symbolism alert! — a massive burning bridge). Between them, Grahame-Smith (who also scripts) and Bekmambetov have made the crippling decision to play this entirely straight, to the point of being inflexibly po-faced. The result is a B horror invading a stilted History channel reconstruction, which veers from the unwittingly ridiculous (“I would fight not with an axe, but with words and ideals,” Abe intones during the over-ladled voiceover) to the faintly distasteful; Gettysburg was a long time ago, but it somehow doesn’t feel right in a film that takes itself so seriously to portray a national-psyche-shredding tragedy as a luridly slo-mo vampire massacre.
It is visually awful. In grasping for some kind of period-appropriate authenticity, Caleb Deschanel’s digital cinematography is bleached, harsh, uncomfortable to view. The 3D is, as is so often the case, noticeable only in terms of how much extra weight has been uncomfortably placed on the bridge of your nose. The excessive digital FX are ineffective and oddly oily, especially during a daft sequence where Abe chases ever-hamtastic rent-a-baddie Marton Csokas over, and through, a horse stampede. At one point an obviously CG gee-gee is thrown at Abe by his bloodsucky quarry. It would be funny if this movie had a sense of humour.
There are occasional flashes of the old Timur — a mural comes to life to give a potted history of vampires; an aerial cityscape shot glitters as America’s citizens stockpile silver (which, in this story’s muddled lore, is fatal to vamps) — but they are lost amid all the hurried, tension-free demi-set-pieces and gratuitous speed-ramping. Only one person walks away from this unscathed: Abe himself, Ben Walker, a physically impressive and charismatic specimen who could do worse than keep the nose prosthetic and carve a career playing Young Liam Neeson in flashbacks and Taken reboots.
The grave tone makes it stiff and leaden, the digi-saturated look is a turn-off. Damnable and disordered.