Van Helsing Review

by Andy Keast (arthistoryguy AT aol DOT com)
May 17th, 2004

Van Helsing (2004): * out of ****

Written and directed by Stephen Sommers. Starring Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale and Richard Roxburgh.

by Andy Keast

I imagine any random glance at the script to "Van Helsing" must read like so:

It's dark and overcast. Everyone is dressed in black, the trees are bare. Characters engage in 1 to 2 minutes of expositional dialogue, using fourth grade English to explain everything that happens while it's happening. Then:
Characters engage in an overblown perilous battle scene for 30-40 minutes.

And so on. At 132 minutes, Stephen Sommers' "Van Helsing" spends far too much time doing absolutely nothing. It takes some two or three interesting ideas and buries them underneath the tonnage of tiresome action. There is a sequence
where an order of monks leads Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) through a sort of Catholic "Q Section" (conveniently located under San Pietro) where they have been toiling away at progressive weaponry to be used for battling monsters. Cute idea -a post-Crusades church engaged in a covert war against evil- though the scene ends up being a throwaway. Meanwhile, the rest of the story is pasted together from bits and pieces of the Universal monster films, the Dracula mythology, "Vampire Hunter D" and two dozen or so other B movies. The opening sequence, for example, is shot-for-shot copy of James Whale's "Frankenstein." Why?

I know: a month ago I raved about "Kill Bill" doing precisely the same thing. The difference is that while watching Tarantino's film one can sense his love for his genre influences, a distinction to his writing and careful direction. "Van Helsing" is just an uninspired, colossal mess. The visual effects are terrible. I'll say that even audience members who don't notice the elements of
photography, editing, design while watching a movie will notice how badly everything is put together. Ridiculous merry-go-round action sequences roar on
and on and on to the point where you'll want to leave the theater to take a break from all the noise. Imagine hiring Kenneth Branagh to direct a B monster
movie, and then on the first day of shooting, feeding him large doses of E. You get the idea.

Oh yes, Richard Roxburgh: one of the most embarrassing miscast actors I've seen
in any role in recent years. I could believe him as a Bond villain, or perhaps
even a similar sadistic killer, but not a seductive creature of the night. Where do you go after the role has been played by Bela Lugosi, Frank Langella and Gary Oldman? Roxburgh looks more like an attendee at a Halloween party, or
one of those annoying drama students you knew in high school, the ones that always made idiotic spectacles of themselves by wearing a cape and hat in the classroom. I would joke that Frankenstein's monster (Shuler Hensley) might as well have been a role reprised by Peter Boyle, but this is below Boyle. Way below.

I believe there is only one possible way to enjoy "Van Helsing," and that is for the viewer to be approximately twelve years old. What other way would an audience member be able to appreciate the following: a 19th Century carriage that explodes when toppled to the ground, as if it had been constructed out of dynamite, characters that swing between castle towers on cables suspended from undisclosed locations in the sky, or a confession booth equipped with a spiny trap door. Did the monks come up with these as well?

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