Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

Vampires -- at least in this movie -- are a lot like ninjas. Both like the shadows, can theoretically kill you silently and in the blink of an eye, and the more there are of them, the easier it is to kill them. Go toe to toe with one vampire -- or ninja -- and you're lucky to escape with your life. Find yourself surrounded by three dozen of them, taking them all down will be about as easy as swatting a bunch of flies.

It's still a messy, bloody business, though, don't get me wrong. Whatever sort of fake blood they use looks a little off somehow -- it seems too thin sometimes, too thick at others, and never quite the right color -- and that's probably the only reason I wasn't queasy leaving the theatre. More cartoon violence then regular violence, in a lot of ways, I guess, though I still wouldn't advise bringing the kids to see it. They didn't rate it R on a whim.

Anyway, Benjamin Walker of Flags of our Fathers is the title character, and he's actually almost as tall as Lincoln was. Once they put the famous beard on him at the end, there's really quite a resemblance. Any other resemblance to actual historical figures, however, either living or dead, is purely coincidental and highly unlikely.

It would take far too long to mention all the ways this movie deviates from Lincoln's actual life, so I'll just say that even ignoring the whole question of the vampires, it's about 85% wrong. While he's a child, his father works for a man named Jack Barts (Marton Csokas of Dream House), I think as some sort of dock worker. Barts is whipping a young black boy for some reason they don't get into, and since the boy, Will, is a friend of young Abraham's, the kid bravely but very foolishly rushes at Barts with a hatchet to provide a little foreshadowing. The only other thing this accomplishes is to get his father fired, which prompts Barts to threaten to find "other ways" of repaying the debt that Lincoln Sr. was working off.

That's when Mrs. Lincoln ends up dead. She actually died of a well-known illness called the milk sickness, more properly called white snakeroot poisoning, but here it's a mysterious disease that stymies all the doctors, of course. But young Abe was awake, writing in his journal, and saw the evil Barts sneak in to sip some of Mrs. Lincoln's blood. After that, he wants revenge, though he doesn't do so well at that to start.

Enter Dominic Cooper, who played Howard Stark in Captain America, as Henry Sturgess. If Lincoln will agree not to let revenge cloud his thoughts too much, Henry will teach him the right way to fight vampires. I'm not sure either of them bought Abe's promise for a moment, but the teaching begins. Somewhere in the middle of learning to chop down trees with one swing and coating an axe blade with silver (vampires hate that here), he apparently decides to study law, though like so many of the more accurate and realistic events, it happens sneakily and quietly, when the camera isn't looking. Abe is sent to Springfield to study during the day and hunt vampires at night, and when he can find the time, he works at a shop to earn his room and board.

The shop is owned by Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson of Zodiac), who reminds me a little of James Spader. Soon Anthony Mackie from Man on a Ledge appears as Abe's long-ago friend Will. Then we meet Mary Elizabeth Winstead from The Thing as Mary Todd. Yes, everything happens practically at once, because there's an entire book to cover here. Oh, and Alan Tudyk of the last Transformers flick shows up for an uncredited part as Stephen Douglas, Lincoln's political rival and famed debate opponent. It's crowded in here.

Maybe this is why the vampires need their own space. They're led by Rufus Sewell, who I last reviewed in Amazing Grace in a very different sort of role. Here, as Adam, he's all for slavery, since slaves make a terribly convenient food source, after all. His sister is Vadoma, played by Erin Wasson, who's mostly a supermodel but here gets to beat people up. It isn't clear how much the vampires actually want the Civil War to start, but once it has started, they're all set to finish it.

Now, I wasn't expecting to like this, since the whole trend of adding monsters to famous books never appealed to me, and this was only another variation on that theme. I tried to approach it with an open mind, as always, but either that failed miserably or it really just wasn't very good. I'm sort of leaning towards the latter. It alternates between overly dramatic moments involving lots of chaos and mayhem, and odd little tongue-in-cheek moments that made me think the whole film wasn't taking itself seriously, which would have been good... except it was taking itself seriously most of the time, extremely so, and after a while that got tiring. It's only 105 minutes, but it felt like it was pushing three hours.

Since a car chase was out of the question, they have a weird battle between vampire and hunter (only one vamp, so you know it'll be a long, dangerous fight) amongst a herd of stampeding wild horses that appear from nowhere. I spent the entire time wondering how in the world they'd managed to film any of that without hurting a single horse and forgot all about the plot and such. And the scenes with vampiric rebel soldiers were just wrong. Maybe it was meant to reassure those of us in the North that the right side won, but it seemed demeaning to reduce the entire war to good, heroic, northern humans triumphing over evil, bloodthirsty, southern vampires.

Mary Elizabeth gets one point all by herself, because she's cool and plays such a good, tough female character. Henry gets a point because he somehow manages to be dark and brooding while still giving an impression that he's having fun in the part. Benjamin gets a point for playing Abe so earnestly, and Anthony gets a point because he's about the only character I felt like I'd want to sit down and have lunch with. Unfortunately, I now have to subtract a point, partly for wild historical inaccuracies and partly for the stop-motion gory slayings, and partly for the fact that Abe was either ridiculously good at killing vampires or ridiculously bad, depending on what the script needed at that point.

That leaves three out of five. It's mindlessly entertaining, but little else. Look for this flick soon on the Top 5 Most Historically Inaccurate Movies II: When Even the Titles are Wrong.

Image: 
The journey of a thousand vampires begins with but a single tree.

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