DVD Release Date: October 23, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: June 22, 2012
Rating: R (for violence throughout and brief sexuality)
Genre: Action
Run Time: 105 min.
Director: Timur Bekmambetove
Actors: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Rufus Sewell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anthony Mackie, Jimmi Simpson

Later this year, Steven Spielberg will release Lincoln, his and screenwriter Tony Kushner’s take on the life of our 16th president. With its Oscar-pedigreed director and star (Daniel Day Lewis), the film, based on a book by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, is sure to make waves with high-brow opinion makers, and to generate discussion among film lovers. The melding of American history with a director who has proven adept with historical dramas (Schindler’s List, Amistad) is a tantalizing prospect.

For those who can’t wait to see Lincoln on the big screen, there is another option: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The title is ridiculous, of course, but in a world where the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has caught on, this sort of historical mash-up sounded, from the title alone, like it might be this year’s Zombieland: a high-spirited action film that has fun with genre conventions. Instead, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter turns out to be a grim, glum movie. It never finds the right tone, or the right balance between historical send-up and serious historical drama. It would have been better had it left its Stanley Kramer pretensions behind and had embraced its inner Quentin Tarantino.

Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) is a haunted man in 1865, but it’s not just the Civil War that’s keeping him down. Ever since he was a young child, Lincoln has been carrying a burden. As a boy, he witnessed his mother’s death at the hands of a vampire. His desire for vengeance against the creature who took his mother’s life festers and grows within him, so he jumps at Henry Sturges’ (Dominic Cooper) offer to train Lincoln as a vampire hunter. However, Lincoln’s anger about his mother’s killer is a barrier to fulfilling his calling to kill vampires. Sturges tells Lincoln that the future president must cast aside vengeance if he is to commit to a life of vampire hunting.

Those vampires are, it turns out, everywhere. Sturges tells Lincoln he’s fought vampires that appear to be normal pharmacists, innkeepers and even pastors. In order to commit to vampire hunting, Lincoln must shake off all earthly attachments: family and friends are a thing of the past. All Lincoln needs is some training and a silver axe—his weapon of choice in dispatching the undead.

Distracting Lincoln from his mission is Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the woman Lincoln will eventually marry. Then along comes slavery, a fracturing country and the Civil War. What’s a vampire hunter-turned-president to do?

Those problems are not just Lincoln’s but the audience’s, because the film’s shift away from vampire hunting and toward the huge historical issues Lincoln had to confront sinks the movie. If there’s a way to successfully incorporate Harriet Tubman into a story about hunting vampires, writer Seth Grahame-Smith, adapting his own novel (he also wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), and director Timur Bekmambetove haven’t found it. Not even Rufus Sewell, as the leader of the undead, can revitalize the story. (You can guess which side of the Civil War the vampires favor.) Nor can the images from cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (The Passion of the Christ), whose compositions don’t benefit from the film’s unnecessary 3D presentation. The movie’s look is often incoherent, with too-dark action scenes and special effects that are more likely to anger patrons who pay the extra money for the glasses than they are to excite them.