Poor Abe Lincoln.
First there was the Civil War and that whole assassination thing. And now this: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” a horror-thriller about the Rail Splitter as demon slayer that’s about as dull as one of his axes that’s been left out in the Illinois winter too long.
Admittedly, the whole conceit’s a cute idea. It’s based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2011 novel of the same name that was part of the literary mash-up craze that also included “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters,” and “Android Karenina.” While “Vampire Hunter” the book possessed a breathless energy, proving an engrossing, if disposable, read, “Vampire Hunter” the movie skips the first part and goes right for disposable.
Benjamin Walker (“Flags of Our Fathers”) is Lincoln, a man traumatized by seeing his mother killed by a vampire as a child. He vows revenge, ultimately teaming with Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), a man who has been hunting vampires across the ages and becomes Abe’s Mr. Miyagi, teaching him the art and zen of creature killing. Their ultimate goal: to take down Adam (Rufus Sewell, “John Adams”), a vampire kingpin and plantation owner.
As it turns out, the Civil War and all that goes along with it was just a ruse for a vampire takeover of America, and the only thing standing between them and us is Abe’s passion for life, liberty and the pursuit of the undead.
If only producer Tim Burton, screenwriter Grahame-Smith (who makes several key deviations from the book, not always for the better) and director Timur Bekmambetov (who made the cheeky and underrated 2008 action flick “Wanted”) didn’t take themselves and the material so seriously. You half-expect Ken Burns to start narrating. Any sense of fun has been drained from the premise, like so many of the vampires’ victims.
It doesn’t help that Walker is about as stiff as a stovepipe hat or that the action set pieces are mostly predictable and plodding (though the chase through a thundering herd of stampeding horses has its over-the top CGI moments). It’s also another example of needless 3-D.
On the positive side, the vampires are hideous, fanged monsters, not the bloodless boys of “Twilight” nor the seductive sirens of “True Blood.”
Plus the African-American characters, who are backdrops in the novel, play a key role, mostly in the form of Abe’s childhood friend Will (Anthony Mackie). Even Harriet Tubman makes an appearance. Who knew she had to fight vamps along the Underground Railroad, too? And Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), even gets to get her bloodsucker-killing groove on.
Here’s the best thing, though: Unless the filmmakers plan to bring back Lincoln as a ghost, there can’t be a sequel.