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Van Helsing

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale
Director: Stephen Sommers
Genre: Horror
Year: 2004
Rating: 2 / 5

Count Dracula. Frankenstein’s Monster. The Wolf Man. These creatures all play central roles in Van Helsing, the film that kicked off the 2004 summer season. Roger Ebert refers to the film featuring this collection of screen legends as “silly and spectacular,” but I choose to think of it as merely silly. The movie is certainly ambitious, as evidenced by this very famous casting call, and it starts off well enough. In fact, the first half of the film is rather promising, specifically the opening sequence. Unfortunately, Van Helsing eventually sinks under the weight of its own lofty expectations. Where taking a step back or toning things down a notch might have helped a script zooming out of control, Van Helsing instead plows ahead at full speed. The result is a jumbled blend of because-we-can special effects, corny dialogue, and unfulfilled promise, not the kind of monster magic Van Helsing is seeking.

Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman), backed by a secret order of religious leaders seeking to rid the world of evil, is the world’s foremost monster hunter. With a nineteenth century crew of gadget makers at his disposal – ala James Bond – Van Helsing is always ready to dispatch any foe. His latest task sends him to Transylvania, where the mysterious Count Dracula is methodically disposing of the members of an ancient family. Only two remain, including the feisty Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale), looking alternately fetching and uncomfortable in her rather snug outfit. As Van Helsing begins investigating, he learns that Dracula’s true agenda features a much more sinister purpose, one that hinges on the ability to create life and one that poses a very real risk to the rest of the world.

Van Helsing has a great many problems, but allow me to eliminate a few of them from consideration. Is Kate Beckinsale’s accent horrendous? It certainly will not win her any awards, but, contrary to some opinions, it is consistent. (Consistently bad, but still…) Hugh Jackman may be sporting a rather flamboyant hairstyle for this one, and his hat may look like an early Indiana Jones castoff, but he is not the issue either. Rather, clichéd sequences and ho-hum special effects doom Van Helsing. Some could point to the abundance of trite scenes as an example of the film’s tongue-in-cheek humor, but, if so, these jabs clearly miss the mark. Likewise, the special effects, while clearly a selling point for the film, seem blasé by today’s standards. Worse still, director Stephen Sommers focuses on their supposed brilliance so much that we’re left scratching our heads at their utter inadequacies.

Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) has already proven he can deliver a summer action adventure, and, truth be told, Van Helsing is not a total failure. The film is somewhat entertaining, albeit overly long, and the subject matter is certainly worth a watch. However, where The Mummy succeeded on account of its adventurous spirit and goofy humor, Van Helsing is an overdone attempt to meld old-fashioned movie magic with a modern adventure film. Its failure is not so epic as to doom its participants to a life of shame and B-movies, but the true concern has not yet been realized. With solid – although unspectacular – opening weekend grosses, the producers behind Van Helsing may be inclined to keep this franchise going, and that is the most frightening thing of all.

Cast:

Hugh Jackman..........Van Helsing
Kate Beckinsale..........Anna Valerious
Richard Roxborough..........Dracula

Certification: Rated PG-13 for violence.
Running Time: 132 minutes.

Additional Info: Internet Movie Database
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