Choppy in the wrong way for its starting ten minutes, but it becomes a certifiable vampire-slaying hoot. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is an extravagant fantasy that follows Abe from young man to president, wielding his axe on vampires along the way. He’s played by Benjamin Walker as a solemn man-of-his-word type. He’s up against one vampire in particular, played by Rufus Sewell. Abe is warned by his contemporaries to not get involved with friends and loved ones because avenging is a grueling, severe commitment. But against those warnings, he falls for Mary Elizabeth Winston (as Mary Todd) and in his available daytime hours, studies for his law degree.
The early scenes with Young Abe losing his momma to a vampire could have been done better. This is Hollywood frenetic-flash exposition at its worst. But the upside is that Russian-born director Timur Bekmambetov (“Wanted”) has a keen understanding for what makes action sequences work. He senses that savvier audiences don’t want endless fights with fast-cutting blurry images (“Blade,” that’s you). You’re with me and with the flaunt of Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill,” right? Yes, we want showdowns with startlingly quick results, awesomely photographed, held to slo-mo for the money shot.
It’s hard to imagine this film existing without “Enter the Dragon” (1973) and “The Matrix” (1999) being precursors to it – the acrobatics and photographic style of those flicks have their fingerprints on this Abe. Yet there is a flair for the spectacular, with tremendous Civil War sequences (it’s funny how Abe initiates the South to fight with silver to defeat the Northern vampires), and a gleefully preposterous train-on-fire sequence that rivals “Under Siege 2: Dark Territory” (1995) and “XXX: State of the Union” (2005).
Bekmambetov simulates a sometimes graphic comic book style, too, if “Sin City” (2005) was in color it might have looked like this. To make the gore less gory, the vampires spill black squid-ink for blood. Unlike most movie vampires, these baddies aren’t snoozing during the day. You can find them by the mirrored aviator sunglasses they wear.
Anthony Mackie plays liberated black man William Johnson, and acts out his part like he would do a Steven Spielberg drama. Dominic Cooper plays vampire headhunter Henry Sturges, not in the official history books. Even though we’re in pulp cartoon territory, we still get a noble “Four Score and Seven Years Ago” speech after Abe has declared himself as the Great Emancipator. Yes, even vampire movies (good ones!), can tear a page or two from history for its own sake.
105 Minutes. Rated R.
ACTION & ADVENTURE / VAMPIRE FLICK / LATE NIGHT THRILLS
Film Cousins: “From Dusk Till Dawn” (1996); “Air Force One” (1997); “Night Watch” (2005, Russia); “Sin City” (2005).