© 2004 Ray Wong
The makers of THE MUMMY and its sequel once again try to jumpstart the summer season with their early entry. Think of VAN HELSING as a hodgepodge of monster stew, and you’ll have a good idea of what kind of a movie it is.
The film opens with a prologue in Transylvania, where Count Dracula sabotages Dr. Frankenstein’s experiment in order to nab his “monster.” Dracula fails. A year later, Van Helsing, after successfully terminating Mr. Hyde at the Cathedral de Notre Dame, answers a task from the Church to protect the Valerious family who has been battling Dracula for centuries.
The family is now down to two: the beautiful Velkan and his even more beautiful sister Anna. Velkan disappears one day after trying to capture the Wolf Man. Van Helsing and Anna set off to Transylvania to find Dracula’s lair to destroy him. In the process, they unearth more than just secrets about the history between Dracula and the Valeriouses. The world’s fate depends on them. Fierce and fantastical battles ensure.
If it sounds complicated, it is. But don’t fret. Much like his MUMMY series, writer-director Sommers has specifically asked the audience to check their brains at the door. As expected, VAN HELSING is a special effects spectacular, where MORE is more. Forget subtlety -- non-stop actions and campy dialogue are in order here. Super-sized. Want fries with that, too? To his credit, Sommers sets out to create a campy, tongue-in-cheek monster movie featuring not one, not two, but all four Universal monsters in a whopping 132-minute extravaganza. And he succeeds in paying homage to classic films such as Whale’s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Polanski’s THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS, among others. The production value is high. In fact, the special effects are spectacular (e.g. how a man turns into the Wolf Man by ripping off his skin). Also spectacular are the plot holes. Anna (a human) leaps and bounces like Spiderman, gets smashed and crushed and dropped like a chew-toy, yet comes up without a single scratch on her beautiful face, making the denouement even more unbelievable.
Jackman (X-MEN) has perfected the “brooding, lonesome” hero archetype to a fault. His performance serves the title role well, which is one-dimensional and flat to begin with. Ironically, Jackman seemed to have a better time playing the “wolf” creature in the other super-human film. Beckinsale (SERENDIPITY), with her dark features and bodice-ripping figure, looks and acts scrumptiously different than her classical roles in films such as EMMA, PEARL HARBOR or THE GOLDEN BOWL. She adds spice to the otherwise formulaic heroine role as Anna. Wenham (LORD OF THE RINGS) is a hoot as Friar Carl, possibly the best role in the film. Roxburgh (MOULIN ROUGE), however, fares not as well with his one-note, overacting villainy. He makes for a very unconvincing Count Dracula -- one yearns for the return of Christopher Lee or Bela Lugosi. The rest of the cast is serviceable. Granted, this is not a film with which to win an Academy Award.
In a way, VAN HELSING is exactly what a summer blockbuster looks, sounds, and feels like -- loud, bold, and unabashedly dumb. If you can stop yourself from asking any logical questions, it could actually be quite a guilty pleasure. And that is what the film is all about.
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Shuler Hensley, Elena Anaya, Will Kemp, Kevin J. O’Connor,
Director: Stephen Sommers
Writer: Stephen Sommers
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, sexual content, alcohol use
Script – 4
Performance – 6
Direction – 5
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 4
Production – 8
Total – 5.3 out of 10