“Your mommy’s blood was sickening sweet—I hope yours tastes even better.”
This line spoken to our titular hero by a vampire villain in the Snidely Whiplash fashion gives you an idea of the quality (or lack thereof) to the writing of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, based on the novel by Seth Grahame Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice With Zombies and writer of the screenplay, which arguably handicaps the movie far far more than even its outlandish premise. In the same spirit of Air Force One, Hollywood has decided that what America really hankers for is a presidential- styled action hero, only this time, instead of battling Russian terrorists, he’s going after the undead. Who are also slave owners, of course. (Slave quarters thus serving as a form of vampire pantry). Abe as a little boy saw one kill his mother, so he’s out for revenge. Yet as the scope of the evil bloodsuckers’ plan comes clear—“It’s time we had our own nation,” proclaims the main baddie—Abe turns to politics to fight the undead menace on a national scale. (Seriously).
Now to be fair, the movie has a few moments. Benjamin Walker (Flags of our Fathers) is an appealingly earnest, awkward presence as the young Mr. Lincoln, an aspiring lawyer and vampire hunter armed with a silver-inlaid ax that turns into a gun. (Seriously). Unfortunately, his performance goes limp when handicapped by layers of makeup to signify aging and too much historical baggage when he plays the older presidential Lincoln. Rufus Sewell (The Illusionist) always makes a good villain and he’s up to the job of Adam the original vampire. The real scene stealer has to be Dominic Cooper (Captain America, First Avenger) as Henry Sturgess. He’s sexy, scary, enigmatic, and complex. And while vampires can walk in the sun here, they do not, thankfully, sparkle, and there is also the intriguing twist that vampires cannot kill their own kind— but that is underdeveloped as is anything else in this film with potential.
It could have been possible to have wild, campy fun with such a concept, but the movie insists on taking itself seriously so most of the laughs it generates are unintentional. It furthermore takes the most intriguing aspects of the premise—fighting undead soldiers on the battlefield and the horrific and bloody allegorical possibilities of slave owners literally feasting on human blood—and fails to explore them properly in favor of set pieces featuring Abe pursuing his mother’s killer through a horse stampede (seriously) and the movie’s grand finale centered around a train wreck. No, I don’t think director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) intended the latter sequence to be prophetic, but at the end of the day, this alternate history, like Honest Abe’s pistol in a key sequence, just doesn’t get the shot off.