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Review: Van Helsing

Perhaps the loudest summer film of all time, Van Helsing is apt to provide more migraines than nightmares.

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Van Helsing
Photo: Universal Pictures

“I want to live,” roars Frankenstein’s monster in Van Helsing, and he’s just one of many seeking self-realization amid the cacophonous chaos of director Stephen Sommers’s reunion of classic Universal Pictures horror icons. Frankenstein, hunted by the local townsfolk, only wants the opportunity to exist, while Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) plots to bring his incubating demon children to life. Meanwhile, Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman)—a tortured, amnesia-stricken assassin employed by the Vatican to stamp out Europe’s fiendish monster population—simply wants to remember who he really is.

The irony, of course, is that the film is wholly devoid of humanity or soul. Perhaps the loudest summer film of all time, Van Helsing—an exhausting combination of CGI-infatuated action set pieces and self-conscious one-liners—is apt to provide more migraines than nightmares, assaulting one’s ears with glass-shattering vampiress shrieks, extravagant explosions, and a bludgeoning score by Alan Silverstri. Aside from an opening scene shot in elegant black and white, Sommers’s video-game aesthetic principally involves having characters bouncing off walls, hurtling through the thunder and lightening-wracked sky, and falling from rooftops with pogo-stick abandon, creating the impression that we’re experiencing a non-interactive PS2 game with eye-popping graphics and indestructible protagonists.

Although Van Helsing’s blank memory is only partially responsible for his action-figure vacuity, Jackman strikes a dashing figure as the eponymous hero, an amalgam of Batman, Wolverine, and Indiana Jones outfitted with 007-style gadgets like an automatic crossbow and circular hand saws. And his beautiful, wondrously named Transylvanian sidekick, Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale), the last living member of a family sworn to destroy Dracula, capably battles the film’s mythic villains while encased in a studded leather corset.

However, after enduring Anna’s straight-faced delivery of portentous inanities (“I’ve never been to the sea,” she arbitrarily blurts out while approaching Dr. Frankenstein’s Gothic castle), the urge to see her fetching lips sewn as tight as Frankenstein’s body parts becomes overwhelming. Van Helsing’s metronomic alternation between scenes of serene conversation and helter-skelter combat has the recurring predictability of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and this tiresome rhythm is mirrored by Roxburgh’s historically awful interpretation of the blood-sucking Count. His Dracula, madly veering from reserved civility to maniacal, vein-popping hysteria, is an insufferable lunatic in desperate need of anti-depressants, and makes one wish Bela Lugosi would rise from his grave to mete out some revenge. You don’t need to stick a stake in this monster mash—it’s already (un)dead.

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Shuler Hensley, Elena Anaya, Will Kemp, Kevin J. O'Connor, Alun Armstrong Director: Stephen Sommers Screenwriter: Stephen Sommers Distributor: Universal Pictures Running Time: 132 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2004 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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