If you were to get in a car and drive southeast for about three hours, you'd arrive at a magical place: the birthplace of one of our nation's greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln. He came into this world in a log cabin in 1809, and grew up to become the 16th president of the United States, during which he drafted the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves. It was a bloody time in our nation's history: the North and the South turned against each other, fiercely divided on many issues, not least of which was that of slavery. Now, history would have us believe that the issue was one of economics combined with racism... but Timur Bekmambetov and Seth Grahame-Smith have a different story to tell. “However history remembers me before I was a president,” said Lincoln, “it shall only remember a fraction of the truth.”
That quote won't be found in any of Lincoln's official writings or transcripts of speeches. It comes straight from the film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter , which opened last weekend nationwide. The film portrays an alternate vision of Lincoln's life and presidency: vampires exist, and have for millennia. Young Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) learns of their existence when his mother is murdered by the vampire Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). Vowing his vengeance, he is trained by skilled vampire slayer Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) and begins his career as a vampire hunter, armed with a special silver axe.
Fans of Bekmambetov's films should be quite familiar with his style. His movies are riddled with high-octane action sequences that are ridiculous yet incredibly exciting due to their originality and over-stylization. (His films Wanted  and Day Watch  have drawn ample comparisons to The Matrix.) Bekmambetov produces pure eye candy, but in a way that is uniquely his; anyone can showcase a series of explosions a la Michael Bay, but I guarantee you have never seen an apocalypse like the one portrayed in Day Watch.
When it comes to action sequences, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter remained consistent with Bekmambetov's usual visual style. Lincoln twirls an axe at high speed like a cheerleader with a baton and uses it to decapitate and dismember the undead with such precision and finesse you wouldn't even guess it only took a single (really awkward) training montage to achieve such skills. It doesn't matter whether he is fighting on the ground or on a speeding train or leaping from horseback to horseback—Lincoln's got it down.
While the actual scenes of vampire slaying provide an exciting and visceral jolt to the viewer, however, the whole debacle quickly devolves into a literally laughable mess of stale acting and trite dialog. Grahame-Smith, who wrote the book upon which the film is based, also penned the screenplay, but he seemed to have zero interest in maintaining a coherent storyline or making his characters interesting. The scenes of dialog and plot development between splattery blood-fests (wonderfully splattery though they were) were seemingly considered to be merely filler to glue together what the filmmakers apparently thought to be the only important aspects of the film: blood and violence. While Bekmambetov's earlier films used this same tactic to some degree, it worked due to either good performances (James McAvoy was just about perfect in Wanted) or a really engaging story (see Night Watch  and Day Watch). Clearly not much thought was given to plot in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and Benjamin Walker as Lincoln was merely a baby-faced puppet who apparently had trouble even remembering his last name when introducing himself to others.
As a result, things reached a head about halfway through the film, during the climax at the end of the first act (Lincoln is in some trouble in a New Orleans plantation house and gets rescued in the most absurd way imaginable), where my companion and I could not help ourselves any longer and we spent the next five minutes stifling the hysterical peals of laughter which threatened to overcome us and thus disrupt our apparently rapt fellow theater-goers. We never recovered.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a nonsensical mess, and the real-life Lincoln deserves better. Yet I would be remiss if I were not to wholeheartedly endorse the viewing of this film in theaters. There is so much wrong with this film that it really needs to be seen to be believed. And besides, as awful as it is, it's Abraham Lincoln killing vampires with an axe—and while it turns out to be not nearly as cool as it sounds (or looks, based on the trailer), it's still something that the conscientious film geek really can't ignore.
Illustration: Sara Lewis