In many ways Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is immune to reviews. Once you hear the premise: our sixteenth President carved a swarth through armies of bloodsucking fiends while armed with his trusty silver tipped axe cum shotgun and they'll know right away whether they're on board or not. There's next to nothing a litany of reviews and websites can say-this one included-that's going to change many minds in either direction. What's fair game is whether the film delivers a good time from its goofy premise.
On the positive side, Benjamin Walker gives a charming and engaging performance as the future President. The film plays like a traditional biopic beginning with Lincoln as a young boy, and we don't see the stovetop hat and bearded Lincoln we remember from history until act three. The bulk of the film focuses on Lincoln as a young man as he hunts the vampire who skilled his mother (Martin Csokas) under the tutelage of Henry, a human-friendly vampire (Dominc Cooper). We see Lincoln learn the ropes before becoming a lean and mean vampire chopping machine and we witness his pursuit of the lovely Mary Todd (geek favorite Mary Elizabeth Winstead who is a much easier sight on the eyes than the dowdy Todd we've seen in history books).
It's not until the last act when the story kicks into overdrive. It's a great "what if?" scenario where vampires join the Confederate army and lay waste to Union troops in the first days of Gettysburg. Knowing what he's up against, Lincoln and company race to get as many silver equipped weapons in the hands of soldiers before they're routed. Events culminate in a high speed locomotive sequence that given the sad state of our education system many audience members propbably don't know who won the battle of Gettysburg (or the Civil War for that matter) and will find it rife with suspense.
The biggest failing of the film stems from Bekmambetov's greatest strength. Since his debut with Night Watch he's perfected the Matrix bullet time style. Each action sequence in AL,VH is peppered with a half dozen moments where the camera slows down to the point of freezing and then swoops around in crazy angles. However, after watching The Raid obliterate expectations for what can be done on film with its fluid, frantic, almost ballet style of knockdown drag out fighting done in real time, Bekmambetov's hyper stylized action looks quaint and dated. It doesn't help that he dips into this well over and over again, never upping his game when the on screen stakes are raised. Whether Abe's taking on a single vampire in a back alley or hacking and slashing his way in a desperate one-against-a-horde scenario, Bekmambetov applies the same technique. Granted there's some fun to be had-a sequence involving close hand to hand combat and a chair whizzing across the room stands out-but by the sixth time you've seen the same technique apple, you'll be yawning in your seat.
This could be forgiven if the film allowed itself to have more fun with it's ridiculous premise. Perhaps it goes counter to what you'd expect as a sort of defense mechanism from criticism, but the film plays the material too straight. The problem lies with Seth Grahame-Smith's script, which he adapted from his own novel. Graham-Smith has one glaring problem as a writer. He comes up with fun, whacked out premises (a presidential vampire hunter, Jane Austen meets zombies) then wrenches any sense of joy and mirth from his ideas with his bland, overwrought prose.
What you're left with is a film that has it's fun, popcorn-munching moments of big screen velveeta, but it doesn't commit enough to the premise to get a ringing endorsement. I'm not saying it needed to fill the film with cheesy one liners (If I heard anything along the lines of "Emancipate THIS!" or "Four Score & Seven Years Ago I Staked Your Vampy Behind!" I'd probably have left) but the proceedings often feel like a forced march with any sense of fun and whimsy sucked out of them. While it has it's moments, Vampire Hunter never quite lives up to the goofy promise of its premise.