2004-05-13 / Arts & Entertainment

Modern Humor Turns "Van Helsing" Thriller Into ‘Bad Sitcom’

AP Entertainment Writer
By Anthony Breznican
Modern Humor Turns "Van Helsing" Thriller Into ‘Bad Sitcom’

Modern Humor Turns "Van Helsing" Thriller Into ‘Bad Sitcom’


In their attempt to bring down the lethally seductive, enigmatically powerful Count Dracula, Van Helsing’s assistant Carl (DAVID WENHAM-left), legendary monster hunter Van Helsing (HUGH JACKMAN-center) and fearless gypsy Anna Valerious (KATE BECKINSALE-right) track the Count to his lair, Castle Dracula.                            ©2004 Universal PicturesIn their attempt to bring down the lethally seductive, enigmatically powerful Count Dracula, Van Helsing’s assistant Carl (DAVID WENHAM-left), legendary monster hunter Van Helsing (HUGH JACKMAN-center) and fearless gypsy Anna Valerious (KATE BECKINSALE-right) track the Count to his lair, Castle Dracula. ©2004 Universal Pictures

By Anthony Breznican

AP Entertainment Writer

"Van Helsing" is the guy Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s monster whisper about around the campfire. He’s the thing that goes bump in the night for ghouls, the hunter of the hunted.

In Universal’s new action-adventure thriller, Hugh Jackman is the supernatural vigilante who must stop Dracula from hatching thousands of deadly beasts from his vampire brood, while battling the Wolf Man and Frankenstein in the meantime.

Writer-director Stephen Sommers, who also rejuvenated "The Mummy" and "The Mummy Returns" with Brendan Fraser, adds a similar dose of campiness and special-effects overkill to this tale, which swings breathlessly from action set-piece to set-piece on a bare thread of a story.

The movie begins with a black-and-white homage to Universal’s horror films of the 1930s and ‘40s, when Bela Lu-gosi and Boris Karloff were provoking the ire of torch-wielding villagers. This sets the tone for what turns out to be a Frankenstein style of moviemaking: homage after homage after homage patched together.

There’s a reference to Jackman’s Wolverine superhero from "X-Men," a death scene in which the dearly departed appears in the clouds like "The Lion King," a helper monk (David Wenham) who is like Q the gadget-creating character from the James Bond movies, some rope swinging scenes that recall "Spider-Man,’’ and a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde who looks and sounds a lot like the Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde from last year’s "The League of Extraordi-nary Gentlemen.’’

Dracula (played as a frustrated mad scientist by Richard Roxburgh, who was the sniveling villain The Duke from "Moulin Rouge!’’) and his three vampire brides have thousands of pods containing little, bitty vampires that they want to hatch.

But — no matter how hard they try — the baby monsters tend to die by popping apart in a goopy green splat after only a few hours of life.

Somehow, if Dracula can channel lightning through Frankenstein’s monster (‘’Oklahoma!’’ Broadway star Shuler Hensley), that amplified wave of energy will prevent the wicked little critters from premature bursting. To fulfill his evil plan, Dracula recruits werewolves to do his bidding.

One of those werewolves is Velkan (Will Kemp, ballet dancer and Gap jeans model), the brother of a village woman who leads the crusade against monsters in Transylvania. This is Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale), and these two siblings are the last survivors of the family that’s sworn to stop Dracula.

Here’s where Van Helsing steps in. See, the Valerious clan is cursed, and no member of the family can get into heaven unless one of the descendants kills Dracula. With descendants running low, the Vatican steps in to save their souls by sending their top black-ops agent.

Van Helsing has no memory of his past life, apart from the recent years slaying monsters for the pope. He has vague memories of fighting in the battle of Masada (but that was more than 1,700 years ago – which suggests he’s bit more magical and mysterious than your average monster masher.)

While the Van Helsing from Bram Stoker’s "Dracula’’ was an aging scientist who advised the younger heroes in their quest to stick it to Drac, this Van Helsing is a macho hunk who does his own staking. And Van Helsing and his buddies spray arrows all over Transylvania while tying together the various elements of Dracula’s plan.

There’s an extraordinary cliffside carriage chase involving fire, wolves and death-defying plunges, and scenes with the sexy vampire brides feasting on peasants are exhilarating, but too often the thrills are undercut by attempts at modern humor that turn the movie into a bad sitcom.

In the midst of a furious rant, Dra-cula turns on his henchman Igor and demands to know why he perpetually tortures the Wolf Man with an electric cattle prod. "It’s what I do?" Igor shrugs.

What remains unexplored in this film is possibly it’s most interesting subplot: Who is Van Helsing? We get a few offhand references to him being "the left hand of God," whatever that means, but is he really an ancient, immortal warrior? What sin did he commit that requires so much work toward redemp-tion? Where does he get his super strength?

But wait, aren’t those also the questions left about Wolverine?

"Van Helsing" is rated PG-13 for creature action violence and frightening images and sensuality. Running time: 145 minutes.


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