by Eric D. Snider
Released: May 7, 2004
"Van Helsing" feels like it was based on a particularly dumb comic book, but it wasn't. Its source material was the basic stories of Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman, and the rather cool idea of a monster-hunter wandering through Europe dispatching all the beasties we've come to know and fear over the years.
Cool idea, yeah, but this is a massively silly film, silliness on a grand scale, so silly and over-the-top yet simultaneously so emotionally flat and even dull. Written and directed by Stephen Sommers, still milking his "Mummy" success despite subsequent misfires "The Mummy Returns" and "The Scorpion King," "Van Helsing" is a one-note film, the equivalent of a singer striking one medium-high tone and staying on it for two hours.
It is set mostly in Transylvania, where Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) and his three vampire brides have been trying to multiply and replenish the earth but have so far been unsuccessful. For reasons not explained and which I don't really care to understand anyway, they need essence from both werewolves and the Frankenstein monster to give their offspring life.
Enter Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman), a monster-killer employed by a super-secret association of priests, monks and sheikhs to rid the world of its lurking evils and abominations. He needs to kill Dracula, of course, but he especially needs to do it before the pitter-splatter of li'l vampires can be heard around the village.
In Transylvania he meets Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) and her brother Velkan (Will Kemp), whose family line has been trying to off Drac for centuries. The usual methods of vampire-killing don't seem to work, though, leading Van Helsing and his blithering, cowardly sidekick Carl (David Wenham) to seek answers from ancient prophecies and that sort of thing.
Of the various men who have played Dracula over the years, I have to say Richard Roxburgh is the funniest, gayest of them all. There is such melodrama in nearly every word he speaks, such elaborate, operatic passion! If he or Sommers had intended it to be funny, I would applaud them. As it is, I fear we are laughing AT them, not WITH them.
The cartoonish sidekick routine has been done to death, and Carl seems particularly out-of-place in Van Helsing's world of self-seriousness. He is more an irritation than a comic relief. On the other hand, I rather like Shuler Hensley as the very eloquent Frankenstein's monster.
Why does Dracula have teams of what look like Jawas from "Star Wars" working for him? Why do they insist Van Helsing will only have from the first stroke of midnight to the last stroke of midnight -- about 12 seconds, in other words -- to kill Dracula and then allow him several minutes in which to do it instead? Why do Dracula's wives screech and wail so? Are they TRYING to make us giggle? 'Cause that's what they're doin'. Goodness me, such hammy, overwrought stuff this is.
Rated PG-13, a lot of comic book-style violence, a bit of very mild profanity
2 hrs., 12 min.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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