Van Helsing (review)

Monster Mess

Right at the beginning of Van Helsing, the titular character, who’s kind of a Victorian ghostbuster, has chased Mr. Hyde (of Dr. Jekyll and… fame) into Paris’s Notre Dame, where, during their quip-laden hand-to-hand combat — this flick is nothing if not overladen with quips and hand-to-hand combat — V.H. calls Hyde a “deranged psychopath.” And I found myself wondering whether it wasn’t a tad too early in the history of psychology for someone to throw the word “psychopath” around like this.
This is an indication of the willingness I had, going into Van Helsing, to forgive a lot. For before the psychopath point, there is a self-indulgent black-and-white interlude in which Dr. Frankenstein is run out of Transylvania by revolting, torch-wielding peasants, as well as some jam-packing of Victorian pulp into the V.H./Hyde thing, which besides calling to mind Hunchback (which isn’t quite Victorian, I know) also suggests that Hyde may well have been Jack the Ripper. And I was only worrying briefly about vocabulary.

I was so there: so ready to call V.H.’s hat “Indiana Jones-ish,” so ready to love the movie-popcorniness of a confessional booth that hides the secret entrance to the batcave under the Vatican, so ready to buy Van Helsing as a James Bond with garlic and holy water, so ready to travel to the “far side of Romania” and kill some Universal monsters. And of course, I was so there for Hugh Jackman. Hugh Jackman Hugh Jackman Hugh Jackman.

But I had to give up, about halfway through, and admit that Van Helsing is a disaster of gothic proportions. How bad is this? Okay, Count Dracula, the big bad guy, is sexier than Van Helsing. Sure, the bad guys always get the fabulous wardrobes and the best lines and so it’s easy for an actor to just dominate the screen, especially one like Richard Roxburgh (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Moulin Rouge), who’s yummy to start with and is clearly having a ball chewing the scenery. And not to malign Hugh Jackman (X2: X-Men United, Kate & Leopold) at all — he’s enough to make a hotblooded atheist gal like me believe there is a god — because it’s not his fault Van Helsing is a dud and Van Helsing is such an abysmal mess. Jackman simply has nothing to work with. You can’t build a franchise — and oh yes, this will be a franchise — on a character who’s so insubstantial that he’s the most ghostlike thing in a movie full of supernatural creatures. There’s no there there in Van Helsing. Or in Van Helsing.

I’ve enjoyed the Stephen Sommers brand of movie cheese before — I love his Mummy movies — but he’s gone round the bend this time. This is just one incoherent set piece after another, with so much CGI that this could qualify as an animated film, and none of it looks organic. There’s no story to speak of, just constant, relentless pounding of monsters and running around for no reason. You have to be embarrassed for Kate Beckinsale (Underworld, Laurel Canyon), who has nothing to do but spout off the inane lines like “For me this is all personal, all about family and honor,” in a horrendous pseudo Eastern European accent while having her boobs and her ribs crushed by a leather corset. You have to be embarrassed for David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course), who cringes through the film as a cowardly friar who’s so inconsistent that he can get laid — naughty boy — in one scene and then complain about Van Helsing’s behavior, which does not involve forbidden sex, in the next scene with “How many commandments can we break in one day?”

But for sheer what-the-fuck-ness, it’s a tossup between the mayor of Transylvania, or whoever the heck he is, the guy with the top hat and the long stringy white hair who looks exactly like Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the Oompa Loompas that Dracula employs in Castle Frankenstein. Both instances of bizarrity made me want to sing every time I saw them. I can see how Sommers might possibly have wanted to invoke a late-night double-feature picture show, but he should gone out of his way to avoid a scolding from the Oompa Loompas:

Oompa Loompa doom-pa-dee-do
I have another puzzle for you
Oompa Loompa doom-pa-da-dee
If you are wise, you’ll listen to me

CGI’s fine when it’s not so damn slick
It’s cheaper than models and it brightens your flick
But it’s repulsive, revolting, and wrong
CGIing and CGIing all movie long

The way that George Lucas does

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