Van Helsing
Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham
Directed By :
Stephen Sommers

Synopsis: The plot of this film basically involves Universal following up on the success of the Mummy revival films by having the same writer/director come up with one movie that throws as many of the old Universal film monsters together in one film as possible. That's the story of this movie. Sure, there's half an attempt to connect the characters by having Dr. Frankenstein working for Dracula, who also regularly employs werewolves and has a hinted-at history with Van Helsing, but really it's just laughable. The way these movie icons have been thrown together is completely transparent…just realize that Universal has completely abandoned the façade of a film plot and is opting instead to put signs up that say "we have the stars and the special effects, give us your money."

Evaluation: Honestly, there are a couple of good points to this film. The cast are generally pretty excellent actors. Unfortunately, the script gives the crap to work with, and when they do have decent lines, the manner in which they deliver them is really overly campy. I'm sure it's intentional, and I can only think that such good and experienced actors were delivering these lines tongue-in-cheek, thinking of it as good humor, but Evil Dead 2 this is not. The comedy largely just doesn't work here, it's simply bad. The lone exception being David Wenham, in the role of Van Helsing's sidekick, Friar Carl. A little ingenuity is applied to his role, but ultimately he fits cookie-cutter-like into obvious Hollywood movie stereotypes: Bond's Q, the dorky underdog hero, the comic relief, the steadfast friend. Wenham however, handles his duties with aplomb, and is a somewhat bright spot in an otherwise dismal production. On the other hand, Roxburgh in his role of Dracula, is absolutely horrible. His scenes are just laughable, and he makes for possibly the least threatening villain ever put on the screen. I like Roxburgh, and he's done fine work elsewhere, I can only think that this portrayal was what the directed wanted. That being said, his accent is just atrocious. And don't even get me started on his three brides. They alone could have brought a pristine production to its knees. >shudder<

Okay, so say you like Hollywood 'popcorn' flicks, and you don't care much about acting or story; you loved 2 Fast, 2 Furious. You wanna know, 'How were the special effects?' Well, good and not so good. This movie had a $187 million budget! That's huge, compared to necessarily effects-laden movies such as X-Men with $75 mil or Spiderman with under $100 mil. Well, CG (Computer Graphics) is expensive, and nearly every single shot in this film is a visual effects shot. The film has a somewhat slick presentation, I'll give it that, but with so much work to be done in the effects department, and I imagine a limited amount of time to do it in, something had to suffer. Well, the kings of CG, Industrial Light & Magic, were brought in to handle the workload on this film. But like I said, there's only so much time and money to go around. The final werewolf/vampire fight obviously had a lot of time spent on it, and looks pretty phenomenal. It's what I wish the end of Underworld would've been like. And there are a few other bright spots. But honestly most of the movie looks like it could've used a few more months in the studio. It doesn't look bad, just pretty obvious. And good CG isn't that obvious, it blends in more with the rest of the film. The best special effects don't leave you going "Wow! Great special fx!", they either pass unnoticed, or at least leave you asking "I wonder how they did that? Was that CG?" So, the special effects are decent, but unfortunately nowhere near the level of The Hulk or Golem in LOTR.

Who Will This Appeal To?: Fans of Hollywood flicks where you turn your brain off for an hour and forty five minutes and let the explosions and one-liners wash over you. If you like to ignore absence-of-plot as long as it leads to another excuse for a special effect, this may be just the kind of movie you enjoy. Similar films include Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, The Scorpion King, Godzilla, Bad Boys 2, Men In Black II, etc. Notice that these are all franchise films, which is fine since that is obviously what Van Helsing is designed to be…it barely goes into his back-story and ends nearly begging for moviegoers to finance a sequel. I pray that never comes to pass.

Final Verdict: Honestly, I think this was the worst film I've ever seen in the theater, with the possible exception of Men In Black II. (Though I've rented worse.) This bastardization not just of the original novels these characters come from, but even a bastardization of the original movie bastardizations of those characters is just painful to watch, especially for lovers of good classic horror. Really, summer blockbusters aren't my thing, and I usually sniff them out and stay away from them, but I had a little hope for this one. No, I was wrong, not even a decent cast or ILM can overcome the evil that is Stephen Sommers. Stay far, far away from this film. And if you're someone who does like the above mentioned movies, get out of my theater. You're probably the same jerks who leave your cell phones on and talk to your friends the whole movie.

Details, details…: The brief, tossed-in-just-for-another-monster-in-the-credits scene featuring yet again another completely bastardized apish version of Mr. Hyde features the impeccable talents of Mr. Robbie Coltrane, most recently known for his role as Hagrid in the Harry Potter films. He actually makes Hyde a bit amusing, though ultimately the scene is just as contrived and trashy as the rest of the film. In other monster news, you will probably not recognize Jackman's friend from Oklahoma!, Shuler Hensley, as Frankenstein's Monster…another decent but somewhat mixed portrayal.

- - Jeff Light

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