Worth A Look: 15.34%
Pretty Bad: 18.4%
Total Crap: 49.08%
16 reviews, 230 user ratings
by Chris Parry
If you have every movie monster franchise in history and one well known and much loved fictional character to link them altogether, how could you not make a truly scary, thrilling, rollercoaster of a movie out of it? Especially with a budget that runs north of $160m! Yet writer/director Steven Sommers of Deep Rising and The Mummy fame not only managed to waste one of the biggest movie budgets in history, but he also wasted a great line-up of movie monsters to boot, making one completely pedestrian and un-sequelworthy feature film in the process."Why does it smell like wet dog in here?"
"Not nearly dark enough, not nearly frightening enough, not nearly good."
Abraham Van Helsing was Bram Stoker's great Vampire Hunter character in the book Dracula. In the movie, Abraham Van Helsing is nowhere to be seen, but his supposed kid brother, Gabriel, most certainly is. Such things happen when you can't get the rights to the character you're making a movie about, I guess.
So Gabe (Hugh Jackman) is sent by the church to go find big Drac (Richard Roxburgh) with his trusty weapon-building Friar friend Carl (David Wenham, rounding out the all-aussie male cast). Little bro Van Helsing has just been the hairy eyeball by the Vatican higher-ups for having Killed Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde (Robbie Coltrane) and not brought him in for analysis, so Drac's the next nasty on the list. In order to get to the fanged one, Gabby Boy enlists the help of a Euro-Monster-Huntress (Kate Beckinsale, looking remarkably buxom considering she has the chest of an asthmatic 14-year-old boy) and... uh... Frankenstein's Monster.
Yes people, in this film we get Frankenstein's Monster reduced to 'sidekick of good guy' status.
So there's plenty of fighting, plenty of anemic looking vampiresses (or is that vampirii?) and more effects per frame of film than the human brain could possibly know how to comprehend. Wenham delivers the comedy, Jackman delivers the action, Beckinsale delivers the sass, and Frankenstein's Monster... well, I'm thinking he was delivering the Starbucks for the director, because he sure as hell wasn't burning up the screen.
"If you're going to kill someone, kill them, don't stand there talking about it!"
The biggest problem with Van Helsing (and that's saying something) is that the film is entirely dependent on big bangs, CGI effects and action to get you through the more than two hours of running time. Characters are caricatures, dialogue is slim, and reason is thrown out the window in almost every single scene. Case in point, if you're a vampire and you have a vampire hunter in your clutches, you don't pull a Dr Evil and discuss how awesome it will be to have him dead - you just kill the bastard. All the way through Van Helsing, the bad guys refuse to do the bad guy thing and kill their enemy. In fact, Mr Hyde stands so close to Van Helsing that he could have tongue kissed him, and neither Van Helsing nor Hyde actually find this odd. They just talk... and talk... and talk... until finally Hyde gets annoyed and swats Van Helsing into a wall.
Now, why on earth would you, as a director, allow such things to happen? When you're trying to build suspense, why put your characters in situations where the audience can see, by their total lack of fear, panic or activity, that they aren't going to die?
I want my heroes living on the edge of a razor, never knowing if one false move will see them split right up the breakfast exit, not waltzing around with the bad guy making wisecracks that aren't funny. More than that, I want my heroes REAL, not so CGI-infused that the final showdown consists of two characters completely constructed on a Powermac.
"When we found you crawling up the steps of this very church, Half dead, it was clear to us that you had been sent to do God's work."
Such leaps of logic are prevalent in Van Helsing, a film that pays so little attention to period that Van Helsing's buddy Carl actually says at one point, "I called the Vatican for instructions." How did you call them exactly? Did you use the Bat-Phone?
See what I did there? I said Bat-Phone and there's a vampire in the film and... okay, shut up.
Richard Roxburgh continues his trend of taking on big bad guy roles that require accents, though accents don't seem to be a skill he has acquired yet, and both David Wenham and Hugh jackman seem make it through the affair without doing their substantial acting reputations too much harm (yes, Jackman can act., he just never seems to be called on to do so in American films). Even the usually vanilla Beckinsale makes it through the affair without doing her career too much harm.
But the film they're in never reaches the heights they deserve. I can not for the life of me conceive of taking so many classic horror monsters and making a non-scary film. I can not for the life of me understand making an action film run over two hours long. And for that matter, I can't even really figure out why everyone in the thing wants to kill everyone else, other than that they have to get to the end somehow and a darn good killing might just get them there.
"Oh, don't be boring. Everyone who says that dies."Van Helsing should have been a moody, dark, truly scare-filled affair with great action and the sort of characters you want to go see in Van Helsing 2. Trouble is, the producers handed nearly $200m to a guy who is used to building characters around The Rock. Nuff' said.
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originally posted: 05/31/04 13:31:49