Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 100 minutes
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“They don’t make them like they used to”. A common criticism from many an elderly viewer when talking today’s films. If the old films they’re talking about are larger-than-life B-movies with cheesy plot, woeful dialogue and banging score, then Stephen Sommers tribute to the old monster movies of yesteryear will zap them instantly back to 1936.
Reluctant action hero in the making, Hugh Jackman (he’d much rather be doing musicals or serious roles than prancing about in comic-book stuff like this, but who’s he to complain when we’re talking millions) plays a 19th century monster hunter who’s sent on regular missions to rid the world of its deadliest foes. His latest mission is to take down the 400-year old Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), who’s been using some of the other infamous monsters for his plight – notably Frankenstein, who has the power to give life to ready-to-hatch Drac babies. But with the help of his sidekick Carl (David Wenham) and Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale), the last of a royal family line nearly eliminated by the vampire, the trench-coat wearing monster masher’s not going to let Drac have his way.
You know the no-name brand Pizza Pocket? Looks great, is darn appealing, yet when you take a big bite out of it, there’s nothing in the middle? “Van Helsing” is much the same. It looks absolutely amazing, but by the film’s middle, we realize it’s pretty hollow. Even fans of the B-movies of yesteryear are likely to find the theatre’s illuminated exit sign more mesmerising for a few minutes here and there.
The cinematography is beautiful, the music is pulsating, the effects are good (for the most part, though some do look a little hokey), set design immaculate, and Jackman is the perfect fit for the heroic lead, but there’s just as much wrong with the film as there is right. The idea of meshing the Frankenstein/Dracula/Wolf-Man mythologies is a good idea, but it’s terribly underutilized. Instead of a gripping popcorner, the flow of the movie and the character’s motives are more ho-hum than anything, with the script taking fifth place to every other facet of the movie’s composition. Seems Sommers (The Mummy) is more interested in having the villain’s castles look as good as could be, or the lead character’s weapons as nifty as possible, than bother about a decent script.
Even still, most everyone in the movie seem a little confused as to what kind of movie they’re actually supposed to be making. Jackman plays it ultra-serious (though seems a little bored), Wenham is marvellous as his dimish sidekick Carl, and Beckinsale, is commanding as the lethal heroine, but Richard Roxbugh plays his vampiric part so campy, you’d swear he thinks he’s turned up for a remake of George Hamilton’s “Love at First Bite”, than a blockbuster monster movie where he’s supposed to be playing the usually-memorable all-threatening villain. Truth of the matter is, Hamilton was more intimidating in the satire. This isn’t the flick that’s going to make Hollywood sit up and take notice of the usually excellent Roxburgh.
You can appreciate the idea and you can appreciate the work that’s gone into it, but you can’t overlook the fact that “Van Helsing” hasn’t delivered on its full potential.
Hopefully, EON will sign Jackman up to be 007 before he’s pushed into completing another chapter in this fairly middling fable.
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Posted on May 4, 2004 in Reviews by Clint Morris
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