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MOVIE REVIEW: Lincoln goes from great president to great action hero in ‘Vampire Hunter’

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (R)

3 out of 4 stars

Many horror fans and critics -- particularly those who favor vampire flicks -- have already and at times without even seeing it -- scoffed at the concept behind this film, as if there were actual rules regarding vampire movie plots. Ironically, a few of these naysayers are also fans of the TV series "True Blood" which features vampires that fought in the American Civil War. If soldiers from that era can be vampires, why can't the American president at the time be a vampire hunter?

Granted, the premise is more than a little out there, but so was writer Seth Grahame-Smith's other acclaimed mash-up novel "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." The entire point of mash-up novels is to satirize a sacred text or, in this case, a revered statesman while simultaneously paying homage. It's a lot harder than it may initially seem and requires unique talent and a fertile imagination.

The first thing you should know going in is that the film version of Grahame-Smith's book is not a satire or anything close to comedy. It is straight-forward dramatic horror made all the more believable thanks to the inclusion of many non-fictional events, most of which are rarely covered in films about or featuring Lincoln. The bulk of what we see is Lincoln as a young man and only about 30 minutes of the movie takes place during his presidency.

Relatively unknown Benjamin Walker plays Lincoln and in addition to looking a lot like him, he also bears an uncanny resemblance to a younger Liam Neeson. As it turns out, Neeson was cast as the lead in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" (due out Christmas), but later bowed out and was replaced by Daniel Day-Lewis.

After the death of his mother at the hands of a vampire, Lincoln becomes obsessed with revenge. For reasons better explained by the film, Lincoln begins studying the art of vampire hunting under the tutelage of Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper). Making the ax his weapon of choice, Lincoln is sent by Sturgess to Springfield, Ill., where he'll become a vampire hitman, as it were, while studying law, working at a general store and courting future wife Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

So effective is Lincoln at his night job that it catches the attention of Adam (Rufus Sewell), the sick puppy New Orleans-based leader of a huge vampire clan. Not quite sure of what to make of Lincoln, Adam bides his time in coming up with a plan which pays off for him once Lincoln begins his political ascent.

Having already crafted two superb vampire movies ("Night Watch" and "Day Watch") and the even better action/thriller "Wanted," Russian-born director Timur Bekmambetov was the perfect guy for this project. Bekmambetov's slow and stop-motion style of photography services the material quite well and combined with the arresting 3-D presentation (easily on a par with "Prometheus" and "Avatar") he transforms "AL: VH" into a visual masterpiece.

Not faring quite so well is the third act of Grahame-Smith's screenplay, which takes place during the three-day Battle of Gettysburg. While working well everywhere else in the film, the writer's mixing of fact and fiction during this portion of story is just too far over the top, even for a vampire flick. Wielding an ax is one thing; turning Lincoln into Bruce Willis in "Die Hard" is another. Staunch old-school Southerners and Confederate sympathizers might also take offense as to how the Rebel army is portrayed. On the upside, Grahame-Smith does a splendid job of metaphorically tying together vampires and slavery.

While far from perfect, "AL: VH" is one of the most interesting examples of fact-based cinematic fiction in a long time. If for no other reason, it might also prod those who know little or nothing of Lincoln to find out more about him. In addition to being the greatest president in the history of this country, he's a pretty good action hero as well. (Fox)