Van Helsing Review

by David N. Butterworth (dnb AT dca DOT net)
May 20th, 2004

A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2004 David N. Butterworth

*1/2 (out of ****)

    Those savvy promotions people at Van Helsing, Inc. have been plugging Hugh Jackman's latest creature feature for months now, what with the catchy reflection that "evil has but one name to fear." Recently, however, they've dropped the reference to the "one name" from its coming attractions reel perhaps realizing that "Van Helsing" sounds suspiciously like two.

    It's attention to detail like that (or lack thereof) that consistently deep sixes this cinematic retread, a sort of gender-splicing composite of "X-Men" meets "Hellboy" headed up by "What Women Want."

    The silver screen hasn't seen this many Famous Monsters of Filmland congregated in one place since 1948's "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein"… and "Van Helsing"'s a *lot* funnier. Dracula, Frankenstein, wolfmen, even the hunchback of Notre Dame, all vie for valuable screen time. In VH-1 (since, one assumes, VH-2 is a given), the Aussie heartthrob of such unabashed chick flicks as "Kate & Leopold" and "Someone Like You…" plays famed vampire killer Dr. Gabriel Van Helsing (perhaps evil has but *four* names to fear!).

    Come to think of it in "Kate & Leopold" Jackman played a character named Leopold Alexis Elijah Walker Gareth Thomas Mountbatten. Maybe evil really has *seven* names to fear!

    Sporting a fetching fedora, ankle-length leather trenchcoat, and plenty of attitude (all three of which he appears to sleep in), this Van Helsing's a hired hit man for the Vatican! He also carries a nifty crossbow courtesy Q Branch--I tell you there's a "pay attention, 007" scene right out of James Bond, when Van signs for his stakes, garlic, and holy relics. "Van Helsing" actually one-ups the Bond series by taking Q along for the ride (in this case a sidekick monk who milks the fact that he's really only a friar to his strategic advantage, especially with the ladies).

    Speaking of the ladies, once dispatched to 19th Century Serbocroatia or thereabouts, Dr. V hooks up with the Euro-trussed up Anna Valerious (an unrecognizable Kate Beckinsale, hot off her very own vampire/werewolf flick "Underworld") to rid the world of evildoers. The most interesting aspect of Beckinsale's character is that she changes tops--and back again!--about halfway through the film.

    Directed by Stephen Sommers with the same amount of subtlety and panache he brought to "The Mummy" franchise, "Van Helsing" is loud, distracting, riddled with special effects, and not nearly as interesting as it might have been (is the good doctor an MD or a Ph.D, for example?). And at an attention-dulling 2 hours and 12 minutes it's also way too long. That's the problem with these kinds of film though. With no story to edit, no characters to develop, just an endless assault of repetitive special effects, there's really no limit to how long they can keep the hysteria going. After all, why do the honorable thing and release us from our agony after a mere 88 minutes?

    "Van Helsing" offers a few intentional laughs along with the unintentional ones but otherwise the film seems impaled on its own endless plot points--winged Valkyries attack and attack, swooping down and carrying off hapless villagers (and a cow!) while our buff crusader empties his magazine into the Transylvania skies over and over again.
    If he's the best the Pontif's got the world's in a Van-load of trouble.

David N. Butterworth
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