June 22, 2012 at 9:26 AM ET
The concept is brilliant: Axe-swinging Abraham Lincoln, that solemn face on our penny, out there kicking vampire butt and taking names. Yet "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," based on Seth Grahame-Smith's book, doesn't live up to its wild and weird theme.
The film begins with a young Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) trying to protect a slave friend, Will, from a whipping. Turns out that the creep with the whip has a secret life, and soon Lincoln's mother dies -- not of the "milk fever" we learn about in history books, but of a vampire bite. When Abe gets older, he teams up with a man who teaches him how to hunt down vampires, and all through a job as a store clerk, legal studies and his courtship of Mary Todd, he spends his nights out defanging the creatures.
You know part of the story: Lincoln ascends to the presidency and the nation is torn apart in the Civil War. But in the movie's universe, the vampires need slavery to continue so they can have a steady food source, and thus throw in on the Confederacy's side. Lincoln and his posse -- including now-grown Will (Anthony Mackie) -- can't let that happen, for the nation's sake and that of the human race.
There are fun elements in the film, including one great line about the Underground Railroad and numerous appearances by familiar names out of our history books.
But nothing really comes together. Benjamin Walker plays young Lincoln with a nice amount of gravitas, but he never makes you really root for him, staying as remote as a five-dollar bill . The vampires are pretty much interchangeable, with veiny gray skin and "Matrix"-meets-"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" moves. The movie didn't need to be in 3-D, but the technology is inoffensive here, with a few bullets zinging their way at the audience and some beautiful early Washington scenery.
It's a shame this movie wasn't livelier. It truly has the greatest film title outside of "Snakes on a Plane" -- which, come to think of it, couldn't live up to its promise, either.