2004, PG-13, 132 min. Directed by Stephen Sommers. Starring Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Shuler Hensley, Elena Anaya, Kevin J. O’Connor.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 7, 2004
Compared with Richard Roxburgh’s enactment of Dracula, who, with his neatly coiffed ponytail and natty black-leather waistcoat, looks something like a Reagan-era art dealer on the prowl for new blood, Udo Kier’s Count in Andy Warhol’s Dracula seems positively toothless. (That’s saying a lot since Kier, who recently returned to vamping as Blade’s Dragonetti, re-created the role from scratch and turned the once noble warrior-beast into a cartoonish fop who tended to both sob and vomit when he tapped the wrong – i.e., non-wirginal – neckline. Roxburgh, who is the nominal star and focus of Stephen Sommers’ all-star monster mash Van Helsing, cranks the melodramatics all the way up to 11 and then gnaws off the knob: He’s Count Dracula as The Bat From Oz. You keep waiting for him to break into song and for his brides to come high-kicking down from the ceiling, the Rockettes by way of Hades. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen, but everything else certainly does in what must be the most overloaded showboat of a horror film since Roman Polanski’s magnificently titled The Fearless Vampire Killers, or, Pardon Me, But Your Fangs Are in My Neck. Is this Stephen Sommers or Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Children of the Night Music? The story pits the mysterious monster hunter Van Helsing (Jackman, X-Men’s Wolverine) against nearly the entire pantheon of Universal’s classic monsters, including Dracula and his brides, the Wolf-Man (Will Kemp), Frankenstein's monster (Hensley), Igor (O’Connor), and surprise guest(s) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Something of a rogue agent for the Vatican, the brooding Van Helsing is a man without memory. He has an ancient connection to the Romanian Count that’s sadly never fully explored, and at one point he recalls "fighting the Romans at Masada," which would make him the oldest living Jewish monster-fighter, a sequel proposition that’s just too good to pass up. Van Helsing is aided in his quest to kill Dracula by beauty Anna Valerious (Beckinsale), the last of a Romany bloodline dedicated to battling the Transylvanian bloodsucker. (Also along for the ride, in the requisite hapless-genius-buddy role, is David Wenham’s Friar Carl, who outfits his boss with nifty retro-futuristic gizmos, like a fully automatic repeating crossbow.) Dracula, it seems, has spent the last 300 years getting busy with his brides, and there are now thousands of little baby vampires awaiting their Caesarian-by-lightning birthdays. In a neat twist, Sommers has them hanging from the rafters in gooey little egg sacs not unlike those from Alien, but their ultimate emergence from the tomb seems more like a rush of Gremlins. Van Helsing might as well have been called Destroy All Monsters! had Ishiro Honda not previously exhausted the title on a Godzilla epic. The film’s nonstop barrage of cartoon melees and missions feels very much like a video game, and the relentless use of CGI only abets that tone, while Jackman, who can’t seem to get his accent straight, feels miscast and only half-there. Beckinsale, so sleekly sexy in that other recent vampire epic Underworld, is all bombast and haughty demeanor, and in her seemingly excruciating corsetry she’s literally busting out all over. With a script (by Sommers) that feels overpacked within the first few minutes, Van Helsing is simply far too much of a good thing, and although Hensley’s Frankenstein's Monster comes off better than anyone else, the film suffers from some truly inane dialogue and pacing that will likely cause tachycardia in members of the audience old enough to recall who Dwight Frye was.