Starring Benjamin Walker, Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Written by Seth Grahame-Smith. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov. 14A. 105 min. Opens June 22.
Only a few years into his career, Benjamin Walker has already cornered the market on swaggering rock-star impersonations of American Presidents. As the title character in the off-Broadway hit, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Walker hit the sweet spot between statesman and frontman. And in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, he similarly re-imagines the Great Emancipator as an axe-wielding badass—think Ash from the Evil Dead series in a silly beard and a stovepipe hat.
Walker’s performance is funny (and subtly Liam Neeson-ish) in this adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s mashup novel. Though I’m not sure that any two major collaborators on this cheerfully idiotic big-budget B-movie would agree on it being a comedy—or even on what kind of tone it’s going for. If you locked all the actors in separate rooms and interrogated them about the intentions of this half-glossy, half-chintzy pseudo-period piece—in which, if it wasn’t clear already, Abraham Lincoln hunts vampires—it’s doubtful that they’d get their stories straight.
Considering his track record with Nightwatch and Wanted, director Timur Bekmambetov is not a go-to-guy for wry genre hijinks—he’s more like the Kazakh Michael Bay, right down to the disturbing weapons fetish. And yet Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter occasionally betrays a sense of humour. A mid-film action sequence where Lincoln chases a bloodsucker through a wild-horse stampede at dusk is toweringly, wonderfully goofy (when was the last time that anyone threw a horse at somebody in a movie fight?).
What’s less fun is the material between the smack-downs, which suggest nothing so much as 3-D-enhanced episodes of Funny or Die’s Drunk History. Did you know that the Underground Railroad was used to transport vampire-killing weapons across state lines? Or that the Civil War was really a cover for an attempted vampire insurrection in the United States? If pondered for more than two seconds, the film’s travesties of historical fact, not to mention its equating campy ghouls with Southern slave-owners, are glibly offensive. But mustering those thoughts is difficult when your brain cells are being killed off. Dude, that vampire just threw a horse at Abraham Lincoln!