Honestly, Abe, they done you wrong.
The 16th president, the man who kept the Union together and freed the slaves, deserves better than to be turned into a not-especially-charismatic action hero in a mundane 3D mash-up movie that’s an uneasy mix of history, horror and special effects.
“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” would have been a great comedy-show sketch. In fact, it already sort of was in “Abe Lincoln and His Time Machine,” a 1992 skit from a primetime “Saturday Night Live” spinoff special.
“Lincoln” is based on the bestselling novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote the screenplay. Its conceit is that Lincoln -- even as president -- was secretly a vampire slayer, whacking off the undeads' heads with a special silver-coated ax. (He’s taking out evil vampires, thought, not "Twilight’s" sparkly Edward Cullen variety.)
For Abe, it’s personal. As a boy, he witnesses a vampire chomp on his beloved mother, causing her to become ill and die. He vows he will get vengeance.
Cut to Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) as a gangly young man trying to make his way in the world. He moves to Springfield, Illinois, studies law while clerking in a dry goods store, and meets and romances Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), even as he spends his nights laying waste to vamps.
He eventually becomes a politician, vowing to fight with words and ideals -- he now understands that it’s vampires who are behind the slave trade -- rather than his blade. Once he’s in the White House, though, he realizes that the vampires are in it to win it. Out comes the ax once more.
The problem with “Lincoln” is that it fails to give anything approaching depth to its characters and never has nearly as much fun tweaking history as it might. Other than making Abe into a vampire slayer and having the vampires advocate for the Confederacy as a way to give bloodsuckers a nation of their own, the movie avoids the specifics of the era’s politics and social milieu as if afraid audiences would find it all too complicated.
The result is a summer action-fest -- Timor Bekmambetov (“Wanted”) directed -- that’s long on highly stylized action scenes crammed with CGI special effects (bullets travel in slow motion and blood spurts in shattered ribbons) and short on anything more. There’s just not enough, ahem, to sink your teeth into in this “Lincoln.”
Particularly short-changed are the performers. Walker, so magnetic on Broadway in 2010 in the title role in the musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” mostly just gets to twirl his ax as if it was a baton and he was auditioning for head majorette. English actors Rufus Sewell and Dominic Cooper lay it on thick in supporting roles as, respectively, a vampire and a vampire hunter, turning on the urbane-yet-malevolent charm as only Brits can.
Maybe it’s time to open up their collective coffin and give vampires a well-deserved rest.