PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

June 27, 2012

Who knew American history could be so interesting

Sean McBride
The Port Arthur News

— As we approach the Independence Day holidays and the height of the summer movie season, it’s strangely appropriate that we should find a film like “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” hitting movie theaters. This unexpected pairing of US history and popcorn moviemaking turns out to be a mediocre movie at best, but it’s also a film that is surprisingly enjoyable at times and far better than it has any right to be.

Call it a guilty pleasure, but there were times during the screening when I found myself grinning from ear to ear, even while shaking my head at the inconsistent filmmaking. The action scenes, for example, are thrilling even while some of the computer-generated visual effects are laughably bad. The production design and cinematography are also quite impressive but mostly wasted in a film that only uses dramatic sequences as connective tissue between the vampire battle scenes. Basically this is a bad movie with occasional flashes of brilliance sprinkled in among all the other cinematic rubbish.

To recap the plot, because the film just might feature some stories that you missed in high school history class, we first meet honest Abe as a young boy when he witnesses his mother’s death at the hands/fangs of a vampire. He vows vengeance and we watch him grow up, start his political career, court Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) but also train to become vampire slayer. That proves to be a useful skill because after he’s elected to the presidency, we learn that the Confederate Army is really just a cover for a powerful group of Southern vampires who want a country of their own.

It’s all quite silly and surprisingly played straight. The film shies away from campy acting, which makes it a bit tedious at times. Benjamin Walker, who plays grown Lincoln, is pretty stiff. He looks good swinging a silver-plated axe, but you expect a bit more gravitas from any portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, even in something as absurd as “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

Of course all of this is forgotten whenever the action sequences start up. They are ludicrous, but also quite entertaining. A fight set in the middle of a horse stampede and the climactic battle atop a moving train stand out, despite the afore-mentioned bad CGI effects. I can forgive that because the whole set piece was so darn entertaining. Isn’t that what summer movie making is supposed to be all about?

All things considered, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” can’t be justified in cinematic or artistic terms. The story is absurd, the acting hit-and-miss and the post-conversion process 3D is some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Despite all of this, I enjoyed many parts of the film—particularly those also absurd action sequences. If American history had been this entertaining back in high school, I would have paid much closer attention to my teachers.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@kboi2.com.