Van Helsing (2004) / Action-Horror
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, frightening images, and sensuality
Running Time: 132 min.
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Shuler Hensley, Elena Anaya, Will Kemp, Kevin J. O'Conner, Alun Armstrong, Sylvia Colloca, Josie Maran
Director: Stephen Sommers
Screenplay: Stephen Sommers
Stephen Sommers, the writer-director of the successful revamped creature features The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, tries to strike up another franchise with Van Helsing, another throwback to the pantheon of monster movies released in the 30s and 40s, primarily by Universal. Known for making accessible "dumb fun" movies that seek to entertain with juvenile delight, Sommers brings you the special effects and humor you expect, but fails to include a coherent story or character development. This makes Van Helsing one of the shallowest films to clock in over two hours long, and while it is a marvel to behold nonstop pyrotechnics from beginning to end, it sure would have been nice if he has given us some reason to give a damn about any of it.
Van Helsing takes place in the late 19th Century, where monster hunter Gabriel Van Helsing (Jackman, X-Men) takes a trip to Transylvania to put an end to the menace that is Dracula (Roxburgh, Moulin Rouge!). Along the way, Van Helsing befriends the lovely vampire hunter, Anna Valerious (Beckinsale, Underworld), who joins forces with him in an effort to keep Dracula from capturing Frankenstein's monster to use in the hatching his minions of baby vampires.
The plot summary alone should tell you how silly to expect Van Helsing to be, and while it sounds like it might be a load of campy fun, Sommers empty delivery is merely an exercise in soulless creativity and mindless storytelling. There is no sense of awe or wonder to the fantasy, and not a scary moment in any of the horror; there is only a creepy atmosphere coated with a liberal sprinkling of cheese. Sommers merely recycles the same ideas he has used in nearly every film he has made -- a humorous adventurer, a cute tagalong love interest, and a third wheel loser to provide comic relief. Toss in a blender and puree.
Van Helsing is the kind of movie that results when producers spend more time in coming up with a cool concept and give up caring once all of the ingredients are set in motion, thinking Stephen Sommers + Hugh Jackman + Kate Beckinsale + Dracula + The Wolfman + Frankenstein + amazing special effects = a fun, hip romp that everyone will love. Nothing can be further from the truth. Van Helsing is a mish-mash of old monster movies injected with plagiarized ideas from the best of the George Lucas/Stephen Spielberg era, specifically the Indiana Jones and Star Wars trilogies. It's a beastly big-budget bore, and when it's all over, you'll walk away thinking that Van Helsing neglected to kill the most gruesome monster of them all: the movie he is in.
©2004 Vince Leo