There's nothing inherently wrong with a revisionist/alternate history narrative that the appropriate handling can't make right. That is the exact reason Kazakh director Timur Bekmambetov's adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith's best-selling history/vampire mash-up is such a disaster. There was a real flair in Mr. Bekmambetov's international breakthrough, the supernatural twist on modern-day Russia Night Watch; and his American big-budget debut, Wanted, resolved itself into a delirious actioner on turbo-charged steroids.

     And yet, the frisson of fun that the director's visual, commercial-based dexterity had brought to those smart modern takes on genre is totally absent from this stodgy, rote fantasy that posits Abraham Lincoln (an earnest Benjamin Walker) as an 18th century vampire slayer whose commitment to end slavery was a proxy for the real fight against the eternal evil of vampires looking to take over the USA. (There's a really neat, political-goading twist here: the vampires are all Southern slave-owners, equivalent in a way to the contemporary military-industrial complex, though we may be seeing far too much into it than the filmmakers intended and it's a reading likely to fly over everyone's heads but those of the most partisan commentators.)

     To work on the big screen, the plot needed a light, supple, tongue-in-cheek touch like the guilty pleasure of Wanted displayed. Despite a couple of hints that the film might go that way in the early going, it turns out that Mr. Bekmambetov follows a more serious, character-based road once Lincoln decides to move into politics. His unsuccessful attempts to make us care about these characters' dilemmas never really manage to flesh them out as more than archetypes, and the resulting po-faced attitude kills Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter stone dead. Worse, the bag of camera tricks the director impressively used in his previous features are by now neither impressive nor appropriate - we've all seen varispeed combats and digital period landscapes so much that we're inured to it, and the climactic train fight is so haphazardly shot and edited that it's a miracle that anyone will manage to understand what exactly is going on. The result is a waste of time and talent in a film that could have been a mindless guilty pleasure but is instead just mindless.

Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas, Jimmi Simpson.

Director, Timur Bekmambetov; screenplay, Seth Grahame-Smith, from his novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter; cinematography, Caleb Deschanel (colour, prints by Deluxe, widescreen); music, Henry Jackman; designer, François Audouy; costumes, Carlo Poggioli, Varya Avdyushko; editor, William Hoy; special make-up, Greg Cannom; visual effects, Michael Owens, Craig Lyn; producers, Tim Burton, Mr. Bekmambetov, Jim Lemley (Twentieth Century-Fox in association with Dune Entertainment), USA, 2012, 105 minutes.

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 1 (Lisbon), June 18th 2012. 


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