Van Helsing

2004, Movie, PG-13, 125 mins


Although promoted as a bold reimagining of classic horror characters, writer-director Stephen Sommers' frenetic action spectacle is a hokey monster mish-mash that plunders the richly textured histories of Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein's monster. It starts promisingly, with a glistening B&W sequence recapping FRANKENSTEIN's (1931) familiar conclusion, with a twist. As always, the doomed doctor (Samuel West) animates his sad creature (Shuler Hensley) as angry, torch-bearing villagers storm his castle, but now Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), Frankenstein's secret financial backer, lurks in the shadows. The action shifts to Paris and muted color, and a mysterious figure confronts the simian Dr. Hyde (Robbie Coltrane) in Notre Dame cathedral. Hyde's nemesis is Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman), and he's not the elderly Dutch professor of Bram Stoker's Dracula; this Van Helsing is a 19th-century Indiana Jones by way of James Bond, answering to a cabal located deep within the Vatican and armed with a license to kill fiends, madmen and man-made monsters. Van Helsing has no memory of his past (except when he does; he remarks late in the film that he fought the Romans at Masada) and faces an uncertain future: As the 20th century approaches and popular belief in monsters wanes, his crusade looks an awful lot like a murder spree. Assured by his holy handlers that these tribulations are penance for past transgressions, Van Helsing is shipped off to Transylvania to assist the Valerious family. A rash ancestor swore no Valerious would enter Heaven until Dracula was dead, and with the noble gypsy clan reduced to siblings Anna and Velkan (Kate Beckinsale, Will Kemp), generations of immortal souls are imperiled. Worse, Velkan was just bitten by a werewolf and is fast succumbing to the beast within. So Van Helsing decamps for the land beyond the forest, accompanied by the cabal's sheltered weapons master — any resemblance to Q is thoroughly intentional — comic relief Friar Carl (David Wenham). Having assembled his team of horror all-stars, Sommers sets them to careening around a series of gloomily handsome sets like clattering pinballs in a HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN game. The nonstop action can't quite cover the story's thinness and most of the actors affect hyperbolic foreign accents that make everything they say sound camp. Reconceiving Van Helsing as a haunted mercenary destined to destroy all monsters is a perfectly good idea, but this extravagant exercise in kick-ass nonsense smacks of the same desperation that prompted Universal to combine its exhausted horror properties in the 1940s. That's no way to start a megabucks franchise. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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