Van Helsing Review

by Jon Popick (jpopick AT sick-boy DOT com)
May 7th, 2004

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If there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that Van Helsing isn't even remotely disappointing. Then again, I suppose that proclamation would hinge on your preconceived notions about the film. If you're expecting a choppy, soulless, meandering dud that represents everything that's wrong with the current state of the summer blockbuster, how could you possibly be disappointed by something as grotesquely unwatchable as Van Helsing?
Van Helsing's action (and, sadly, its inaction, as well) take place in the late 19th century, mostly in and around the Greater Transylvania area, which has been tormented by vampires for the better part of the last few decades. One important family is about to see their bloodline wiped out, and that's why the Vatican sends the Indiana Jones-ish Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman, X2) over the Carpathians to put an end to all of the bloodsucking nonsense.
He gets there about three minutes after Dracula's three brides/henchmen come to finish off Anna, the last of the Valerious family. Three minutes after that, Anna is "accidentally" sitting on VH's face - the surest first sign of a bullshit Hollywood screen romance. What follows is a numbing, frustrating ebb and flow of Big, Fake-Looking Set Pieces unwisely juxtaposed with Mindless, Inconsequential Dialogue Scenes That Make You Long For Gods & Generals. Van Helsing could have been in Portuguese and it wouldn't have made one difference (aside from potentially increasing the box office take in Portugal and Brazil).

It's tough to pick a spot to start blasting away at Van Helsing, which works much better as a poster than a film. The very premise - VH battling Dracula, the Frankenstein monster and werewolves - sounds cool on paper, but in the godless hands of writer-director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy Returns), it's about as exciting as watching C-SPAN. The changes he makes are as insipid and uninspired (Frank is a Rhodes scholar! Drac looks like Furio from The Sopranos!) as the parts of the flick he "borrows" from other, better works: VH, like Jackman's Logan, doesn't know who or what he is; Dracula is concerned with a power source to feed the millions of Matrix-like pods full of his unborn minions; VH's sidekick (David Wenham, The Return of the King) may as well have been called Q; Mr. Hyde (Harry Potter's Robbie Coltrane) looks and sounds just like Shrek.

Sommers is a horrible director, but he's even worse when it comes to writing. Why does he show a full moon, and men turning into werewolves, and then have a character say, "The full moon is in two days"? Why does he never explain the convenient thunderstorms that always seem to pop up whenever the Frankenstein experiments take place? Why is there always a really long rope hanging around whenever somebody needs to swing away to safety (I know Van Helsing is just a big videogame, but I didn't think it was Pitfall)? What happened to getting the werewolf antidote into its target by the 12th peal of the midnight bell? I won't even ask where the nipples on Dracula's brides went because I think I know - the costumes from Batman Forever.

The last time somebody tried to combine a bunch of literary characters into one film, we got a dud called The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, which, ironically, featured Van Helsing's Dracula (Richard Roxburgh). The last time somebody tried to cram more than one monsterish antagonist into one film, we got a dud called Underworld, which, ironically, featured Van Helsing's Anna (Kate Beckinsale). See the pattern? And consider this: The one-note Jackman has never carried a feature, nor shown the slightest ability that he could do so. Beckinsale has yet to appear in anything somebody could call "a good film" and is nothing but eye candy here as she intermittently leaps between playing Anna as Lana Lang and Sarah Connor, only with a pizzeria accent. Sommers dropped the ball by not allowing Anna to duke it out with the Drac Bride played by Josie Maran, if only to serve my masturbatory drive.

Van Helsing also features a score that will make you want to sock whoever is sitting next to you out of sheer irritation, as well as an ending that may induce more unintentional laughter than Dubya saying he answered all of the 9/11 commission's questions. The film's only saving grace would have been to slap a Where Are They Now? coda on the end of the story, letting us know that the Frankenstein monster is still reeling from the negative reviews he received in Hollywood Homicide.

2:13 - PG-13 for nonstop creature action violence and frightening images, and for sensuality

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