2.23.2006

REVIEW: Van Helsing (Stephen Sommers, 2004)

There exists a secret order in the Vatican, a crew of monks toiling daily to overcome the threat of macabre evildoers. Their primary hitman is none other than Van Helsing, a man whose memories of his origins have been erased. Helsing is sent to Transylvania to hunt down and kill Count Dracula and possibly learn his history. Hugh Jackman takes the lead with Kate Beckinsale in this gamy romp through Hollywood's creature features, written and directed by professed monster buff, Stephen Sommers.

I knew what I was getting into when I saw Sommers' name at the helm; I came prepared with soda and candy (Sour Patch Watermelons, one of my favorites for movie-watching!) Sommers' past includes The Mummy, which was exciting when I was younger, but his defining work is The Mummy Returns, which showcases just about everything that is bad about modern cinema, bordering on territory that Uwe Boll proudly calls home (House of the Dead, need I say more?)

Helsing traverses new grounds of audience-testing right off the bat (get it, bat?) when we are thrust into a laughable amusement park ride of an action scene between the title character and a poorly computer-animated take on Mr. Hyde, who looks like he could have been concept art for Shrek. The subsequent sequences follow suit, though not quite as offensively, providing us with awfully rendered creatures from irritating shrieks on wings calling themselves the brides of Dracula to hairy, buck-toothed werewolves on steroids. These reimaginings of classic movie monsters would be more accurately described as bastardizations. In fact, the only character retaining a worthy portion of its roots is Frankenstein's Monster, who displays qualities similar to even those of his literary origins.

Sommers' script presents a new level of simplicity so bewildering that you would think Captain Obvious himself, Legolas from the Lord of the Rings series, had penned it. Even when an entire wall goes through a computer-generated transmogrification and begins to reflect the characters in its new glass, Sommers still feels the need to have someone say, "A Mirror!" just incase anyone in the audience didn't catch on. The script's poor nature doesn't stop there, sadly, the exposition (cleverly avoided by more talented writers) is some of the most ill-fitted I have ever laid ears on.

There are miniscule glimmers of repute here and there, particularly some surprisingly good compositions and much-needed humor, but they miss their marks, having been aimed through the murky gauntlet that is Helsing. Not even the lead actors appear to have a grip on their material, if you can call it material, for the true heroism of Jackman and Beckinsale exists in our minds as opposed to actually being present on the screen.

If you simply must rent Van Helsing, do so without expectation of a great action movie, bring lots of popcorn and sugar and you may be happy. It also doesn't hurt to have a huge crush on either of the two lead talents.

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