Van Helsing
Universal // PG-13 // May 7, 2004
Review by Alley Hector | posted May 7, 2004
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Although clichéd and schlocky to the highest degree, something about Van Helsing caught my fancy. I must've been in a good mood; I'm not sure. But it at least didn't pretend to be impressive or cinematic. It's cg and effects were fun, if not mind-blowing, it's characters silly if not full. If you like chasing the monsters and the baddies, it's a good flick for you.

Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) is an amnesiac monster catcher, commissioned by the Vatican and less than loved by the people, as he is often considered a murderer. On a particularly harrowing mission to Transylvania to kill Count Dracula he is accompanied by the timid but brilliant inventor and Fryer Carl (David Wenham). Immediately upon arrival Van Helsing meets the brazen and beautiful love interest Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale). She and her troubled brother are the last of their line, charged with the task of slaying the Count. As long as he lives her entire line remains in Purgatory, barred from the gates of heaven until Dracula's death. The three, along with the unlikely help of an escaped Frankenstein's monster, battle Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) and his three vicious and pretty wives, as they attempt to bring their thousands of stillborn children to life.

Van Helsing's campy black and white intro drew me in, as I kept expecting them to break out into song, like those musical episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Xena. And while they didn't, they still retained some of that not quite parody that's found in something like Buffy. A most outright example would be Beckinsale's humorously appropriate line: "If you're going to kill someone kill them; don't stand there talking about it," as she scurries out of the clutches of a flying wife. The comedy here is all very simple but amusing enough without being too terribly offensive, gross, or boring. In dumb comedies I often get the sense that the writers are trying to hard, often failing to be witty. As a mostly action flick Van Helsing obviously wasn't trying as hard, and yet, was more amusing than many comedies.

Lovers of pseudo-scientific, early industrial gadgets and technology will also enjoy watching Van Helsing. Carl's toys, though not as well done, are reminiscent of those Tim Burton crafts so well for Ichibod Crane in Sleepy Hollow. Unfortunately, Wenham also isn't as cute as Depp but he does exude some charm in his bad haircut and his bumbling. And Dracula has his own weird charm. Just ugly enough to be evil and just attractive enough to be engaging, his constant hair tossing motions reminds one of an adult version of that Goth boy that always sat behind you on the bus. Van Helsing himself is simply a roughened pretty boy, but a bit bland. And Anna Valerious, well, she's just dreamy.

The scenery was aptly dark and a rather good combination of the 19th century with the more medieval feel of Transylvania. The special effects were largely similar to any manner of films before; there was morphing, mainly the vampires into bat-like flyers, and paintings coming to life, all manner of crazy action sequences and fight scenes with back flips. But occasionally there would be the odd sequence that might make you say, "Dude, that's kinda cool," such as a man turning into a werewolf by tearing off his own flesh. But if you can't picture yourself ever saying "dude" at all, you probably won't be impressed.

Van Helsing is not for the jaded, veteran moviegoer. If you already know you won't like it, don't go. But if you like your action mixed with odd sci-fi/fantasy, and just a dash of parody, it's worth a weeknight. Besides, Buffy's only in syndication anyway.



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