It’s hard to imagine a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter being highbrow cinema, but that’s exactly what director Timur Bekmambetov aspired of for his follow-up to 2008’s cult-hit “Wanted.” Unfortunately, in spite of its silly title (which hearkens back to grindhouse-era exploitation cinema), the film rarely cracks a joke and its über serious tone and generic narrative keep the action-adventure from the fun it had the potential to have.
As a young man overtaken by grief, Abraham (Benjamin Walker) seeks revenge for his mother’s murder at the hands of a vampire. Whilst drinking away his pain, he meets Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), a hunter of the undead who promises to teach Lincoln how to kill bloodsuckers in exchange for his promise to submit to a lonely life of slaying the beasts. Lincoln agrees without hesitation. With that, Abe sets up camp in Springfield, Illinois, where he discovers that vampire’s aren’t always confined to the shadows and oftentimes masquerade as anything from bankers to pharmacists. His weapon of choice against these monstrosities? It’s an axe with a silver blade.
The film then fast-forwards to Abraham’s days in the White House. Disregarding his deal with Henry, he’s married to a Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), with whom he has a son. However, the escalating Civil War has become the center of his attention. Alongside Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie), a childhood friend who’s helped fuel Abe’s disdain for slavery, and Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson), his boss-turned-principle adviser, the Illinois Rail Splitter must sooth the turmoil — a task made more difficult when the vampires of his past turn out to be involved.
For the most part, the story jumps between Abe fighting a batch of forgettable vampires and his add-water-and-stir romance to Todd — and neither of these story lines truly mesh together cohesively. Making matters worse, the fanged antagonists aren’t even threatening. And save for a superb sequence that has Lincoln dispelling one of the beasts amidst a sea of stampeding horses and a final action scene that spices up the cliché of battles atop speeding trains, the stakes never seem high enough for an audience to become hooked. Nevertheless, Walker and company churn out a handful of decent performances that make this blockbuster, at the very least, tolerable.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel of the same name. While the book has become a success for its epistolary-style presentation, this film adaptation doesn’t have that same luxury. Its author, fresh off penning Tim Burton’s critical-flop “Dark Shadows,” translated the work for the big-screen and in doing so proves he is one of the more overrated scribes working in Hollywood. The script in this film is a complete bore — an exercise in recycling an industry formula and relying on a director’s visual finesse to keep the traction going.
Unsure of how to end this review, I toyed with a dirty penny I found lying on my desk. It’s then I realized that the coin and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter have two things in common: Both feature The Great Emancipator and had cost more to produce than they’re actually worth.