Back in 2008, Timur Bekmambetov came bursting onto the Hollywood stage with “Wanted,” a badass hitman thriller that both excited and entertained because the director seemed to understand a few things that Michael Bay and his merry band of pyromaniacs seemed to have forgotten. Mainly, it helps to not take yourself so seriously. You are not directing the sequel to “12 Angry Men” when you make the latest “Transformers” movie, so stop trying to serve me some BS drama and riddle the screen with bullets!
A few days ago, I probably would have said that was the only lesson that action-thrillers could take from “Wanted.” But now, after having seen Bekmambetov’s latest, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” I learned that he fell into a typical pratfall that he avoided the last time around. Stock style without substance is an empty void, one that is inherently undeserving of being watched – no matter how cool the slow-motion blood effects are.
Seth Graeme-Smith’s book, which I hear is actually quite clever and enjoyable, is transmuted by the Hollywood machine into a campy lowest common denominator summer popcorn flick. The allegory gets muddled as a thoughtful portrait of the Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker, looking like a young Liam Neeson) is lost to one-note horror and one joke comedy. So by all means, if you could be entertained for 100 minutes by nothing other than dramatic irony – Harriet Tubman’s appearance supposedly funny to us because the characters in the film don’t realize how famous she will be – this might be your movie. And if you can be scared without losing your sanity by “BOO! VAMPIRE OUT OF NOWHERE!” accompanied by crescendoing strings, then by all means, you are going to be cheering in the aisles.
But for me, the laziness just made me wistfully remember one evening in July when I went into “Wanted” expecting mindless entertainment and coming out clapping. Instead of applause, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” inspired me to roll my eyes while our sixteenth President slew hoards of pasty-white vampires alongside his mentor Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) and childhood compadre Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie). What was once mind-bogglingly cool to me was quickly destroyed by soulless repetition. A revisionist history works when you have Quentin Tarantino’s panache (see: “Inglourious Basterds“), but it’s really not worth the effort when it merely provides the backdrop instead of the backbone of a story. Bekmambetov needed the cast of Spielberg’s “Lincoln” – (Daniel Day-Lewis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, among many others – to compensate. C- /