During the climax of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, where an aging President Lincoln aims to get supplies of silver to Gettysburg whilst fighting off a band of angry vampires, one couldn’t help thinking: isn’t it a tad bad taste to insinuate the undead were involved in one of the most infamous and bloodiest battles in American history? But then again, Lincoln was never a vampire hunter.
After the death of his mother at the hands of the titular beasties, a young Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) swears vengeance against the undead hordes. With the help of mentor Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper), the future President embarks on a crusade that will see him go from vampire slayer to the most powerful man in the world.
With a title such as it has, there are no pretenses that this is anything other than deliberate schlock based on a singular ludicrous premise (author and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith is the man behind Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), and, as such, there are expectations, both high and low, that there will be at least a small level of hokey fun to be had. With Timur Bekmambetov, the man behind Wanted, taking directing duties, one would be forgiven that stupefyingly insane entertainment was guaranteed.
Unfortunately, Bekmambetov seems to think so too. His trademark chaos is ever present as he turns Abe into a nineteenth century Neo, complete with flowing trench-coat, bullet-time slow motion and frenetic fight choreography. Yet this chaos translates to all aspects of the film. Where Wanted delivered drama amongst the madness, Lincoln can hardly keep still. Even during the down-time, the film is so haphazardly put together that all notions of pace and character are all but forgotten, so confident and assured that its premise alone will retain audience involvement. Do we care about anyone? Not at all. Do we know who half the characters even are, or their motives? No. Does it even matter that our protagonist is even Abraham Lincoln? Definitely not.
Yet, despite its rigid insistence on running before it can crawl, there’s a fundamental lack of film-making coherence at play that cannot be ignored. Walker as Lincoln displays the charisma of an oak door whilst Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mrs. Lincoln demonstrates such a level of overacting that it’d seem out of place in a 40’s melodrama. The key fault, however, is the decision to play things straight, resulting in such a jarring tone as to wonder whether the filmmakers have opted for the Airplane! mould where the comedy stems from such earnestness amongst the lunacy. Alas, it would seem this is not the case and the laughs are unintentional. Some seem to get it, Cooper especially, but in the end there’s a rudimentary failure to play the material for what it is.
There will be entertainment for some during the Bekmambetov-esque fisticuffs (the train finale adds pizazz a little too late) but the end result is an almighty cluster fuck. Messy summer movies seem depressingly frequent this year yet none thus far have got it so tragically and catastrophically wrong as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
Everyone who sees it will be permanently made a little bit stupid.