Lincoln Made Into Just Another Action Hero

  • 06/26/2012
  • Terelle Jerricks

By Danny Simon

Over the weekend, a twelve year old named Charlie saw Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. It’s Monday morning, and Charlie sits imprisoned in a summer school classroom because he has to retake American History. The teacher is asleep, CNN is playing on the screen, and Charlie finds no mention of Lincoln’s simultaneous wars against slavery and vampires in his textbook. Now Charlie’s no fool. He knows that the movie was based on a book made from fact and fiction. Vampires don’t exist and before becoming president, Lincoln was a lawyer, not an axe wielding sociopath on a clandestine revenge trip. Unfortunately, Charlie will continue to believe the supposed facts that he’s read; the Civil War was fought because of President Lincoln’s moral objection to the practice of chattel slavery.

Screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith’s translation of his novel from print to celluloid recasts Lincoln as a passionate man out to avenge the murder of his mother by a feckless vampire who is part of a cabal intent on taking over the nation. Armed with a silver plated axe, Abe dispatches the undead with alarming alacrity, if not joy, and then bloody glee supported by his mentor/vampire, Henry Sturges, and his best friend, Will Johnson, a free slave that works as part of the underground railroad. For reasons lacking explanation, vampires are still in the closet despite their decimation of tens of thousands, but the same might be said of Abe as he can’t be honest with Mary Todd about what he does at night instead of trying to squirm into her bed. The film skips much of Lincoln’s ascendancy aside from the growth of his beard. He finds his revenge, but it remains unclear if satiating that bloodlust transforms him into the president we mostly mis-remember.

Now, you’re probably thinking I’m a dick for turning a movie blog into a cultural rant and for holding Hollywood responsible for retarding our kids and sadly, most adults. And I am, as they are, because we all seem too busy texting to wonder about the effects of disfiguring  public memory in the service of expediency. It’s unlikely to change because complexity doesn’t fit on SAT flashcards. But I digress…

There are no good performances by any of the mostly b-list actors in this film. But that’s ok because they are just competent enough to service the vision of director Timur Bekmambetov and cinematographer Cabel Deschanel. Wooden and cartoonish, the film paradoxically smirks nostalgia and seems to mock itself as if it were some ridiculous and poorly executed high school play. Thematically, the film addresses slavery and vampires, but it doesn’t add much to either mythos. But if writer Smith is content with the results, he should count himself as incredibly lucky. Most writers never get the opportunity to shepherd their work to the screen.

Campy, predictable, though not entirely dull, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter succeeds in recasting the 16th American President in a new light. Unfortunately, this new illumination renders the author of the Emancipation Proclamation as just another action hero.

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