I'm a firm believer that there are no sacred cows where art is concerned (and, yes, I may be stretching the definition of art here), but the constant references to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter's titular character as "Abe" certainly tested my personal limits. Maybe it's the fact that Steven Spielberg will give our greatest president the dignified treatment he deserves in a few weeks. Maybe it's the fact that Benjamin Walker's Lincoln was quite likable despite all the "Abes." Either way, I enjoyed every bit of this film, even if it did turn the Great Emancipator into a campy, axe-twirling inside joke.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is the brainchild of genre mashup specialist Seth Grahame-Smith. He wrote the script here as well as the bestselling book of the same name and the even more heralded Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Grahame-Smith has made a cottage industry out of turning institutions on their head, out of rejecting the preference for "nobility over brutality," as Walker's Abe puts it in the opening moments of the film, and he does just that with aplomb here.
I feel a bit like Eli Cash here, but all Grahame-Smith does is insert vampires into the familiar rail-splitting, self-made-man Lincoln tale that we all learned in elementary school. It is vampires Jack Barts (Martin Csokas) and Adam (Rufus Sewell) who take his mother Nancy (Robin McLeavy) from him at a young age. It is Barts and Adam who inform his distaste for the institution of slavery; in this universe, you see, freedmen are kidnapped from the North to serve as meals for bloodthirsty vampires, almost all of whom reside in the South. It is even the reason he moves to Springfield, Ill., where he meets Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and eventually sets off on a political career. His first assignments after he's trained as a vampire hunter by Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper) are in Illinois' capital city.
The vampires and their involvement in the decisive moment of the Civil War are what keep the movie going, but ultimately AL:VH is a bizarro bromance/buddy cop film. Sure, our fearless Abe is a principled leader with an unshakeable moral compass, but in this vampire-infested version of America, he can't triumph over evil without his friends -- Mary Todd, Henry, Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie) and Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson).
Perhaps that's what makes such a ridiculous film so palatable. Yes, there's an irreverent maybe even distasteful premise around which AL:VH is built, but the engine that keeps it going -- this band of friends and confidants surrounding a fearless leader/hero -- is familiar, even failsafe.
If you have a sense of humor and the stomach for violence at the end of an axe-handle, I think you'll find it a challenge to not at least enjoy Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, even if you have reservations about the reverence (or lack thereof) shown to No. 16. This is Wanted director's Timur Bekmambetov latest offering, and I liked this quite a bit more than the movie that made his name. He has a gift for action, so here's hoping he gets more scripts like this one with which to match that talent.