Van Helsing (2004)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Shuler Hensley, Elena Anaya, Will Kemp, Kevin J. O’Connor, Alun Armstrong, Silvia Colloca, Josie Maran, Tom Fisher, Samuel West
Director: Stephen Sommers
1/2 (out of 4)
If you wanted to take a look at everything that is wrong about big budget Hollywood films of today, you would pay very close attention to Van Helsing. Mind-numbingly awful, the movie plays like some kind of endurance test and is proof positive that Stephen Summers merely got lucky with The Mummy. Instead, Van Helsing is more like The Mummy Returns – full of fake CGI effects, insipid dialogue, and unbelievable physical laws. It is so ridiculous that it could almost pass for camp, except that there’s no fun to be found anywhere during its two hour plus running time. It is in love with itself and in love with excess – it doesn’t know how to establish characters to root for or create action scenes that make sense, and what’s worse is that it doesn’t care. It has no originality, stealing from every film imaginable, from Aliens to Indiana Jones to James Bond. And perhaps worst of all – it’s PG13.
Hugh Jackman plays Van Helsing, accompanied by a friar version of Bond’s Q as he fights every monster you can locate in Universal Studio’s back-catalogue. Working for the man (Vatican), he’s sent off to kill Dracula, and if his missing memories don’t give you a clue that he’s a carbon copy of Wolverine, perhaps his transformation into a werewolf later in the movie will convince you. I half expected Patrick Stewart to come out in a wheelchair. Later he hooks up with Kate Beckinsale, playing some variation of her vampire character from Underworld, except with a really bad Romanian accent and the cheese factor turned way up (yes, even more than Underworld).
There’s not much left to say about the plot, which doesn’t really matter anyway, since it, along with character moments, are secondary to the horrible CGI effects. I’m sure it took a lot of hard work to render computer generated horses hopping over a huge canyon like flying reindeer, but did anybody stop to ask why? By the film’s end, you’ll be asking many more questions like: why is Dracula’s clothing invisible in a mirror, why do naked vampire chicks have no nipples, why does an exploding light grenade fill up an entire castle, and why is Dracula a whiny goth-boy?
I can’t answer these questions, but perhaps they would have been avoided if some of this movie’s 160 million dollar budget went towards a writer worth his salt. Someone needs to tell Sommers that not every moviegoer is a mindless zombie waiting to be numbed with meaningless eye candy or exhibit a Pavlovian response to Alan Silvestri’s by-the-numbers score. If he really wanted to pay tribute to old Universal Horror perhaps he would have given his film some atmosphere and fright instead of turning it into an empty lightshow. Van Helsing is truly soul sucking cinema, but it did make me sympathize with Dracula – after watching it I felt like I aged hundreds of years.
- Bill Gordon