Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Movie Review - Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Ask the average American what the Civil War was about, and they might tell you slavery. Some (especially throwback rednecks who think the South should rise again, as if that would be anything other than completely disastrous) might tell you it was just about Northern Aggression. Ask a tweed-jockey academic, he might just tell you all about how it was about the rise of industrialism and the decline of agrarianism. But they're all wrong - it was about vampires.

If you want the true story behind the Civil War (and when I say 'true,' I mean 'silly'), you need to watch Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Then you can learn all about how Honest Abe killed the nightwalking dead with a special axe coated in silver, because a vampire killed his mom when he was a kid. Then he tried to outlaw slavery, since vampires were eating slaves, and the South got kind of pissed and started a war.

Interestingly, the war is not the biggest part of this campy action flick. The bulk of the tale is about young Abe Lincoln as he learns about the evil beasties of the night and learns how to chop down trees for no reason. There's a love story, as he falls for Mary Todd, and lots of actual historical factoids are woven into the tale in an attempt to make it even semi-believable.

Of course, the story is not believable. I mean, even if you accept that vampires exist, and that they can turn invisible, and that they can live forever if they eat your face, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is still a little tough to swallow. Young Abe develops super powers when he… trains real hard. He's not bitten by a radioactive vampire or granted an emerald vampire-killing ring. He just discovers the hidden powers of the mind and uses them to deliver vengeance to the inhuman predators that are turning South Carolina into an all-you-can-drink blood buffet. Why is he suddenly able to run across the backs of stampeding horses to chase his evil prey? Because it looks cool.

But if you're watching a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, you're not here for an intellectual treatise. If you want that, read Gore Vidal's book. Instead you get to see one of the greatest presidents of our nation do backflips and choreographed ass-kicking with a sweet wood-chopper and a stove-pipe hat (though when he's fighting on the top of a train, he doesn't wear the hat). The action sequences in this movie are larger than life and twice as silly, but they're really fun. Acrobatic synchronized slaughter, complete with slo-mo blood spatters and grim expressions of rage, are the real stars of this movie. The actual character could be almost anyone, but the fact that it's such an absurd combination makes it that much more entertaining.

Also entertaining is that the acting is not half as bad as it ought to be, given that the biggest name in the movie is Alan Tudyk (who plays Steven Douglas, and is on-screen for maybe two minutes total). These are a bunch of actors you probably don't know, and yet they do an admirable job of making you really want to believe that any part of this campy blood-bath is even remotely possible. A few stretches were required in casting - Mary Todd is extraordinarily pretty, and considering she actually had a face that could curdle milk, the choice of actresses was a bit of a stretch. But they did get an actor who looks quite a bit like Lincoln, then shaved off that dorky Amish beard so he could be a kid instead of a president.

The real beauty of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is it delivers almost exactly what you think it should. There are vampires, obviously. There's vampire hunting. There's blood and fighting. There are explosions and bullet holes and gruesome scars. And as young Abraham Lincoln takes on the mantle of leadership to save the nation from the undead menace, there's blatant silliness. This is a movie that knows what it is. It's campy and violent and cool. It's about as deep as a New York pizza, but it's exactly what you expect it to be. If all filmmakers believed in this much truth in advertising, I never would have seen Magic Mike.

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