We've got a pretty serious problem, here: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter* doesn't know what kind of movie it wants to be. It's a dumb genre picture spliced into a subpar historical drama, and the dumb parts are, you know, fine: Scenes where Lincoln is killing vampires—shooting them in the face, lighting them on fire, hacking them to pieces with his trusty ax—are undeniably funny. It's an easy joke, riffing on the closest thing America has to a saint. Even an unexceptional Lincoln impersonator like Benjamin Walker suddenly cuts a serious figure when you put a stovepipe hat and beard on him, and then when you make him run around on the outside of a moving train, killing off an army of vampires, you trigger a bit of cognitive dissonance that gets hardwired into our heads back in elementary school. And when you throw daffy conspiracy theories on top of basic American history—the Civil War, apparently, was cover for a secret battle to save the soul of the nation from the undead, who had quietly taken power in the south—you get the kind of movie that makes kids' heads explode with transgressive glee. (And, of course, someone will get offended by this. I can't see diehard fliers of the Stars and Bars feeling too happy about the suggestion that Dixie was on the side of the undead, for example, and tying the whole battle between vampires and humans in with America's long history of slavery in an animated sequence should make Seattle audiences squirm in their seats with discomfort.)
But on the other hand, the movie seems afraid of being too irreverent. Here's where the subpar historical drama bit comes in: Like a too-earnest superhero movie, AL: VH obsesses over getting Lincoln's origin just right.
He's a just man, a decent man, who wants to avenge the death of his mother at the hands of the vampire king. He has to run for president in order to save the world. He doesn't want Mary Todd Lincoln (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, bland in a bland role) to suffer because of his duties. It's all so boring, and it's enough to make you wish they had jammed a few more exploitation-style thrills into the movie—a raunchy sex scene, a morally questionable choice—to keep things interesting.
Because honestly, a lot of this movie is boring. The chronology is disjointed and tries to cover Lincoln's whole life. The background scenery often has the beautiful, washed-out flavor of an old landscape painting, but the action sequences are the same Matrix ripoff stuff we've been seeing for well over a decade now. (I wanted to see how director Timur Bekmambetov handled 3D and was disappointed by how banal it was. In fact, very few of the action scenes featured the same visual inventiveness of Bekmambetov's early sci-fi work like Night Watch; only one scene featuring a battle in a raging herd of wild horses at sunset is at all memorable.) It's just, you know, Abraham Lincoln killing vampires for a couple hours. If you're very easily entertained, this will entertain you. That's about the best I can say for this one.
* And, no I haven't read Seth Grahame-Smith's novel, which was the basis for this movie. When I saw the title of the book a couple years back, I said I'd wait for the inevitable movie, and, lo, here it is. I don't know how the movie compares to the book, although since the screenwriter is Seth Grahame-Smith, I'm going to assume it's pretty close.