Van Helsing

Marketing is triumphant with Van Helsing, more a great example of corporate synergy than an enjoyable movie. Before the release of the film, Universal repackaged its classic monster films, Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man for sale just in time to coincide with the film's release. An NBC television series based on the film is in the works, as is a sequel. And a fancy new ride (er, attraction) will undoubtedly appear at Universal Studios at some point in time. So while everybody set about making sure that Universal could milk every last drop of money out of Van Helsing, they forgot to sit down and plot out a coherent story. Van Helsing was the idea of Stephen Sommers, the man behind The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. He tried to infuse the same mix of adventure, pseudo-horror, and humor here as he did with much success in the first Mummy film, but it doesn't work here. Instead, one gets an overblown, overwrought film that substitutes special effects for pretty much everything else.

The way that Sommers brings together the three classic monsters of horror is not that great either. It's a contrived, artificial situation that gives a lot of screen time to Dracula (Richard Roxburgh, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Moulin Rouge!) and marginalizes Frankenstein's Monster and the Wolf Man. Everything comes together under Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman, X2: X-Men United, Kate & Leopold), the resident monster hunter for the Church. Officially, he doesn't exist. Unofficially, he goes on Church business with all sorts of neato gadgets and rids the world of evil. At the same time, he has superhuman strength, no definite memories of his past, and dreams of a battle that took place over eight-hundred years ago. Clearly, he has issues. Jackman gives a lifeless, almost constipated groan to most of his lines, which implies that Van Helsing has some other issues too. His current mission is to go to Transylvania and help the Valerious family kill Dracula.

Years ago, a Valerious swore that none of his descendants could enter Heaven until they killed Dracula. Now, only two Valerious heirs remain, and for some reason this means that Van Helsing must go and help them. He quickly butts heads with Anna (Kate Beckinsale, Underworld, Laurel Canyon) Valerious, who is keen on wearing very tight corsets. Each one believes the other is unnecessary. Also along for the ride is Van Helsing's dopey assistant Carl (a thoroughly emasculated David Wenham, Return of the King, The Bank). Sommers' plot revolves around Dracula's desire for offspring. The Wolf Man (Will Kemp) is barely there, and Frankenstein's Monster (Shuler Hensley, Someone Like You, The Bread, My Sweet) also appears. At least he has a little more purpose in being there, but not much. It's all an excuse for special effect after special effect. Sommers piles on so many effect sequences that they become numbing. Everything blurs into one, continuous, LOUD movie.

Sommers never slows down long enough for a coherent story to materialize, and when he does, the audience has to suffer through dialogue along the lines of "Dracula's progeny are born dead." Granted everything is not that bad. Van Helsing is one gloried b-movie, with lots of extra money for mind-numbing special effects. Take them all away and there is just a lot of bad acting, especially from the three brides of Dracula. B-movies can be enjoyable on their own level, and Van Helsing is, as long as one's mind is shut down. The movie begins with a nice black-and-white tribute to the old Universal movies, and there is a thrilling cliff chase, but not much else. Sommers stated that the movie was an homage to its predecessors, and it feels like he's borrowing bits and pieces from too many movies and throwing them together. Worst, he's unintentionally reminding people other, more recent, better movies. Beckinsale already fought vampires and werewolves in Underworld. Jackman already has super strength, a long life, and large holes in his memory as Wolverine. And he looks much better with the leather and the goofy hair than with the long hair and big Pilgrim hat.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
2 hours, 12 minutes, Rated PG-13 for non-stop creature action violence and frightening images, and for sensuality.

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