If there is a phrase to sum up the works of director Timur Bekmambetov, it’s “bat-shit insane”. Unfortunately, if there is a phrase to sum up the works of writer Seth Grahame-Smith, it’s “barely coherent boring shit”. As you might expect, this creates a movie going experience that doesn’t quite know what to do with itself. It has moments of that signature Bekmambetov bat-shit insanity, and then falls all over itself with horrible dialogue and awful pacing.
I can say with certainty that Seth Grahame-Smith, henceforth known as SGS, just doesn’t understand how to write people, dialogue, or the process of narrative flow. Frankly, it’s a shame. This guy is rife with awesome ideas and half-formed thoughts of insanity. That makes it all the more disappointing when he fails to follow through. I think a lot of this stems from the fact that he wants to be the author of his vision, instead of turning it over to a more experienced and talented writer. I know this is the height of hubris for me to say this, as I am not a talented writer and I’ve certainly never had anything published or had my works turned into a film, but I firmly believe this is the case.
The movie is divided into two sections, pre and post presidency. The second section is by far the weaker of the two. I hesitate to call them acts, as the movie has several acts, childhood, pre-hunter, training, Springfield, courtship, vanquishing his villain, introduction of Adam, early presidency, and late presidency. The script and dialogue are laughable bad, but the action sequences are ridiculous and over the top…when the action is present. That’s part of the problem with the film as a whole, the narrative propulsion just isn’t there and the action sequences are mostly lumped together, with a final gasp of action at the end that suffers from setting more than anything. There is never a sense of anything ever hanging together like an actual sequence of events. Everything is a series of “and thens” rather than being linked with words like “because”, “therefore”, or “which results in”, and it’s pretty obvious.
I’d like to think that a lot of this is due to the historical nature of the subject matter, but I would be deluding myself. Many of the characters only exist because they existed in truth, and the script wastes them terribly. Stephen Douglas truly serves no purpose in the film, other than as a self-centered foil to Lincoln. Mary Todd gets some of the worst writing of the film as a whole, and that’s really saying something. The fact that she abandons her fiance is never addressed, and showdown with Vadoma (a name I had to look up because I think it was never even said in the script) is without emotion. Speed is presented almost as a jealous lover, and the writing sets it up so that he might be the only guy in the film with which you can form an emotional bond with. This is sad, because he doesn’t really have a whole lot to do, but he’s one of the few characters that comes across with having more or less recognizable motives.
The action scenes early on are fun and inspired. The movie essentially has two finale sequences. It is unfortunate that the first finale is much more meaningful than the second. I mean seriously, this is the movie that I paid money to see. A vampire is throwing horses at a Lincoln with a silver plated axe. It’s completely insane and awesome. Once this scene ends, you are left with the set up of the second thrust of the movie, a great introductory action sequence and then…nothing. Seriously, nothing happens for about thirty minutes and the final action sequence is a bit of a gasp. I would have preferred the story end with the first finale, and the second villain never have been introduced. He is pretty slick, and is never done justice in the film. It’s also a damn shame that Lincoln becoming president is never presented in the “THIS IS TO STOP THOSE MOTHERFUCKING VAMPIRES!” way that it should have been. The absurdity is cast aside for what, historical accuracy?
So it’s a waste of a movie then, right? Not really. The early action sequences are balls out and fun, the middle third of the film clips along nicely and the actors are game, even if the script is not. Seriously, the first finale is pretty goddamn awesome in the way that Night Watch and Day Watch are awesome. The introduction to Adam? Fucking awesome. Everything after that? Not so great. All in all, I am glad I saw the film and I am left once again with the following thought. A film needs to be made to let Timur Bekmambetov go hog fuckin’ wild. They needs to embrace the insanity in its entirety, and not rely on him to make something visually interesting.
In all, I’d give it one and a half smiley faces on a scale of five frowny faces to five smiley faces. Pay matinee rates, see it in a dollar theater, and just enjoy the earlier acts and try not to fall asleep through the rest.