The first in what I dearly hope is a trilogy to include Calvin Coolidge: Exorcist and George W. Bush: Werewolves Is Comin’, the frenzied and occasionally diverting mashup Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter rewrites American history so that the Civil War becomes a war between humans from the North and bloodsucking fiends on the Confederate side.
Big Abe wields a bloody, righteous ax that conceals a mean shotgun, able to plug a silver bullet into a vampire’s skull. Or an eye. It’s cooler in the eye.
There are many beheadings and throat-slicings, and director Timur Bekmambetov was the hack behind the assassination lark Wanted, which couldn’t get enough bullet’s-eye-view shots, repeated here. And then repeated.
A 3-D attraction, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter makes full and morally dubious use of the format, starting with the first big “wow!” shot: a whip cracking against a slave boy’s cheek. A terrible sight, but the way it’s photographed, it’s also meant to be a nifty cinematic image. And therefore indefensible.
Adapting his own richly embroidered novel, which is a lot more fun than the movie, Seth Grahame-Smith (who also wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) strips his book for parts and ditches the most interesting detail and context. Straight from his rock-star portrayal of another U.S. president in the Broadway musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Benjamin Walker is Lincoln, who as a boy learns his life’s calling. His mother dies at the fangs of the vampires. He swears vengeance and nearly dies in an attempt to avenge that death. But the mysterious Henry, played by a movie-saving Dominic Cooper, intervenes, takes care of business, explains the vampire lore to Abe, leads him in a training montage and joins him in a lifelong quest to prevent the United States from tilting toward the undead.
It is a little fun for a while. But Bekmambetov shoots every killing spree like an addled gamer, working that slow-down-speed-up kill-shot cliché like a maniac. The actors, most of whom have a wry sense of humor, contend throughout with a director with no sense of humor at all, only a sense of flip excess.
Honestly, the movie looks terrible. For every medium or long shot in anything resembling sunlight (though this is largely an animated film, given the amount of green-screen effects), the digital zizz of the image looks like a dupe of a dupe. This isn’t “period” style; it’s just sloppy.
I did enjoy a few things. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a dishy Mary Todd Lincoln. There’s a slo-mo strut toward the camera performed by Walker’s Lincoln that is genuinely funny. And I adore the nutty hypocrisy of the voice-over that begins and ends the film (meant to be from Lincoln’s vampire-hunting journal), the line referring to how history prefers “soaring speeches to quiet deeds.” This, in a splattery diversion that has no time for either.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (R) ★★☆☆☆