“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”: Those four words, strung together in that order, sound like a lot of fun, don't they?
It's a totally ridiculous premise, this notion that the 16th U.S. president lived a whole ‘nother secret life, prowling about at night, seeking out bloodsuckers. But it's a creative one, and it should have provided the basis for a freewheeling, campy good time.
Unfortunately, director Timur Bekmambetov and writer Seth Grahame-Smith, adapting his own best-selling novel, take this concept entirely too seriously. What ideally might have been playful and knowing is instead uptight and dreary, with a visual scheme that's so fake and cartoony, it depletes the film of any sense of danger.
Bekmambetov, the Kazakhstan-born director whose 2008 action hit “Wanted” was such a stylish, sexy thrill, weirdly stages set pieces that are muddled and hard to follow — a horse stampede, for example, or the climactic brawl aboard a runaway train. The murky (and needless) 3-D conversion doesn't help matters, and it's a waste of what was probably some lovely cinematography from five-time Oscar nominee Caleb Deschanel. He also keeps going back to some of the same gimmicky uses of 3-D, including slow motion slashings and beheadings that send black vampire blood spurting from the screen; the repetition of this trick produces the same numbing effect that it had in Tarsem Singh's “Immortals” last year.
The tall, lanky Benjamin Walker certainly looks the part as the title character (he also looks distractingly like a young Liam Neeson, and actually played a younger version of Neeson in 2004's “Kinsey”) but there's no oomph to his performance, no “there” there. He doesn't exude any confidence or charisma, either as he becomes increasingly skilled in vanquishing his foes or as he succeeds in wooing the sophisticated (and engaged) Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). And once he becomes the Lincoln we actually know — with the beard and the hat and that big, famous speech — it merely feels like he's playing dress-up rather than embodying the spirit of a towering historical figure.