Hollywood has a long, rich tradition of historical abominations, but never has there been a history done more abominably than “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”
If only they’d made this insane conceit more fun. If only they’d taken it all a bit less seriously. But this film, adapted by the same fellow who wrote the inexplicably popular novel of the same title, isn’t even bad enough to be camp.
Seth Grahame-Smith’s silly script re-imagines the Rail Splitter as a vampire vanquisher, a man seeking vengeance on the monsters who killed his mother.
Snippets of real history slip into the story as Harriet Tubman makes an appearance, Abe debates Stephen Douglas (Alan Tudyk), courts Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and wears the burden of the bloodletting of the Civil War.
Dominic Cooper is the mentor who teaches Abe about the vampires among us. Anthony Mackie is the freed black man who is loyal to the death.
And Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas and Erin Wasson are the vampire leaders who plot their victory at Gettysburg.
Director Timur Bekmambetov (“Wanted,” “Nightwatch”) brings his usual visual verve to Abe’s many vampire battles — musket balls hurtling into the 3-D camera lens, slo-mo ax arcs, digital horses stampeding into our noses. It’s an alien past that he creates with his designers and cinematographer. But everything in between the action is badly written, badly acted and boring.
Which brings us to our leading man. Throughout Hollywood history, the towering screen presences of each era have blanched at playing Lincoln. Henry Fonda, Raymond Massey and Gregory Peck are among the few who dared tackle the character.
Inexperienced Benjamin Walker has the look of a young Liam Neeson about him. But Walker lacks the spark, the charisma, the confidence to play this guy as anything but a limp Lord of the Ax Dancers.
Where’s the humor, the wit? (Lincoln was a great joke teller, another bit of history Grahame-Smith ignored.) “Vampire Hunter” is a failure with poor Walker a tall, thin deer caught in the kerosene headlamps of a locomotive going off the tracks.
“History prefers legends to men,” Abe narrates from his diary. Grahame-Smith, Bekmambetov and Walker have conspired to give us none of the above — not the history, not a compelling legend and certainly not Lincoln the man.