In 2008, Russian director Timur Bekmambetov stamped his territory with his stylish Hollywood debut in WANTED. His trademark style of over-the-top action coupled with lots of slow motion remains intact in his second Hollywood feature, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. However that pulsating spirit that makes WANTED such an entertaining guilty-pleasure mayhem is significantly lost in translation with his supposedly more ambitious follow-up here. Not that it's totally misguided effort here, but for such a potentially entertaining genre hybrid that mixes historical fact and vampire genre, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER deserves more than just a mere stylish gimmick.
Based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith who also adapted his own screenplay here, the movie opens in 1818 Pigeon Creek, Indiana where young Abraham Lincoln (Lux Haney-Jardine) witnessed his beloved mother's (Robin McLeavy) died as a result of an infectious bite from the vampire Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). Years later, Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) is now grown up as a twentysomething man who vows to avenge her death. One night, he botches his chance to kill Jack Barts at a pier, only to be gradually saved by a mysterious guy named Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper). It doesn't take long for Lincoln to learn that Henry is actually a vampire hunter, and subsequently begs him to teach him how to fight and kill vampires in the name of justice. After successfully learning all the skills, he begins his search for the vampires where he heads down to Springfield and he finds work as a shopkeeper under Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson). In between, he divides his personal time studying law and hunts down vampires. Then one day, he falls in love with a beautiful woman named Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and subsequently marries to her. He also reunites with his childhood friend Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie), who is now fighting for a cause to free slavery. As the war is approaching, vampire plantation owner Adam (Rufus Sewell) is vow to use it to his advantage to conquer mankind. The only person who can stops him is Lincoln, who is subsequently finds himself elected as the 16th president of the United States, with his last-minute effort to save the mankind from total vampire domination.
Judging by the title and the premise itself, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER has that engaging hook to be positioned as a high-concept summer movie extravaganza. But high concept alone does not translate into a good movie when the execution is mostly undermined. Screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith who has earlier failed squarely in his sole writing effort in Tim Burton's lackluster DARK SHADOWS, continues to falter here. While ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER does fares better than his last writing effort, his haphazard and bloated storytelling skill is very much a nuisance here. There are just too many things going on here as Smith juggles to mix all the biopic treatment to tell how Lincoln grows as a determined young boy to a 16th president of United States, while presenting a unique twist of his own by adding the vampire mythology. Yet the overall effort he made here collapsed under its own weighty issues. It doesn't help also when the pace is heavily uneven and characters development here are significantly lackluster.
Viewing this as a mindless action movie, Timur Bekmambetov manages to fill up all his trademark style here especially when Lincoln dispatches the vampires with his trusty axe and his acrobatic fighting skills. But it's quite a surprise that Bekmambetov goes overboard as well, where there are many action scenes are choppily edited with lots of shaky cams and annoying close-ups. Even his two most spectacular action scenes -- the battle between Lincoln and Barts amongst a herd of stampeding horses at dusk and the all-hell-breaks-loose finale at the train -- are mostly ruined by lots of smoky effects until it's sometimes hard to enjoy the excitement to the max. Other visual treat offers here are mostly mixed bag, with Caleb Deschanel's soft-focus cinematography does gives that aura of an old period setting but at the same time ruins most of the fun because of its dim lighting.
Acting-wise, relative newcomer Benjamin Walker is quite a charm as Abraham Lincoln and he does have an uncanny resemblance of the real-life figure himself especially after he is elected as the 16th president of the United States with all the tall hat, suits and trademark beard. Too bad the rest of the supporting actors are disappointingly cut-rate, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead's lackluster performance as Mary Todd while Rufus Sewell's villainous turn as Adam doesn't inject enough bite to his one-note character.
Overall, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER manages only to boil up half of its fun. Here's hoping that Timur Bekmambetov manages to get his act back together in later future.