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Van Helsing (2004)

  Directed by: Stephen Sommers
Written by: Stephen Sommers
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Hugh Jackman, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham
Links: Van Helsing on the IMDb, Buy the Soundtrack
Genre: Action

This movie gets: 3.00 (1 rating) Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

Van Helsing (2004) is also mentioned in pearly's review of Three Dollars (2005).

"Wenham Hoggs the good bits" - a review by mino

Sometimes, it's hard to tell if a movie is a tongue-in-cheek parody of everything that's wrong with a certain genre, or whether it's a prime example of everything that's wrong with a certain genre.

Van Helsing, needless to say, is just such a film.

You see, it's really bad. It's really horribly awfully bad — but I just can't be certain that it's not supposed to be. Just when you're sitting there thinking ‘wow, this is bad’, along comes a bit that's so bad you go ‘oh, I get it: it's meant to be really bad, because no bad movie would include a bit that's that dumb’, but then that bit is followed by another bit which is soooo bad that you go ‘no, even if you were trying to make a bad film you couldn't possibly make this crap’, and then you add another layer and another and eventually by the time you leave the cinema your brain has devoted so much time to trying to work out if the film is bad at being good or good at being bad that all the blood has drained out of your medulla oblongata and you haven't breathed in half an hour, and you've lost all feeling below the nipples.

Ahh, screw it. I'm pretty sure that Van Helsing actually a terrible movie. So let's run with that.

Hugh Jackman is the eponymous hero, the famed vampire hunter of lore who acts as a kind of 19th-century James Bond: he's given ‘missions’ to go and off a certain monster (Mr Hyde, for example — who is incidentally the worst big-budget CGI effect I've seen since, ooh, the Mr Hyde character in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)), he collects some old-school ordnance (holy water, rapid-fire crossbows, and so on) from the eccentric Q-like monk Carl (David Wenham), and heads off to bring the beast in.

When he's sent to Transylvania to deal with Richard Roxburgh's Count Dracula, though, things get a bit hairy for Mr Van Helsing. Dracula is a much more impressive foe than he's ever had to deal with before, and along with the Count, Van Helsing has to deal with some sundry vampires, werewolves, and Doctor Frankenstein's monster, no less. Of course, there's a sultry ass-kicking female sidekick in the mix — isn't there always? — played in this case by Kate Beckinsale. I think there's supposed to be some chemistry between the two but, alas for me, if there was any, I obviously did not have the right equipment to view it, because the chemistry levels I detected seemed to imply that at best the two actors are wildly indifferent to each other, though I might be wrong: they may actively hate each other.

The biggest flaw in Van Helsing — apart from the feeble plot, the terrible acting, and the dialogue apparently written by a cumquat — is the fact that no effort at all seems to have put in by the director/writer, Stephen Sommers. The movie just bounces from cliché to cliché without ever really trying anything original — and everything in the movie happens multiple times without actually changing, which seems to be a ploy to fill out the promised two hours of footage. A good 80% of the screentime, for example, seems to be devoted to people falling into chasms, off bridges, over clifftops, off the roofs of various buildings, and so on: not giving anything new or interesting each time, just ‘oh look, someone's fallen off something again’. And when they're not falling, they're swinging — off a rope, or a chandelier, or a chain, or a vine, or something. Honestly, it shouldn't be called Van Helsing, it should be called Swingy McFall. Yeesh.

When Sommers isn't ripping off himself, he's ripping off other people. I lost count of the number of other films that were hijacked from wholesale. I'm sure Sommers would call it an homage, but the films he steals from seem so odd that it seems unlikely. I mean, there's one bit that's a total ripoff of The Lion King (1994). Why? And why do some of the bad guys look exactly like the Tusken Raiders from Star Wars (1977)? There's no reason for that, unless Sommers was running over budget and found some old Tusken Raider costumes at George Lucas's garage sale or something.

Special mention, by the way, has to go to the three banshee-like female vampire creatures who torment Van Helsing and the lovely whatever-the-hell-Beckinsale's-character's-called. These things are just… awful. I don't know what else to say. They're these totally stereotypical shoddily-accented (more on that later) women in body-stockings who spend the whole movie snarling, and doing some sort of weird writhing usually associated with either being in pain, or with being Kate Bush. They're the most clichéd second-rate supporting characters I think I've ever seen in a movie, and get approximately seventy-eight billion percent more screentime than they ought to.

To be fair, there is one great thing about Van Helsing: David Wenham. Carl the monk, who is forced to accompany Van Helsing on his Dracula-hunting mission, is one of the finest pure comic relief characters I've seen a long time, and has pretty much the only good lines in the movie. He provides a sort of farcical counterpoint to the ridiculous importance the rest of the movie seems to give itself, and he really is very funny. The closest comparison I can think of is to Porky Pig's Friar Tuck in the old Merrie Melodies cartoon Robin Hood Daffy. Wenham's presence alone probably accounts for two of the points-out-of-ten I'm giving this movie (and that's saying something).

Apart from Wenham, there's really not much to entertain in Van Helsing, unless you like your action exceptionally mindless. About the only amusement I could find was incidental — like trying to work out how horse-drawn carriages keep mysteriously exploding when they crash (LPG cylinders not being, as I recall, very prevalent in the 19th century), and whether or not the actors in this movie amused themselves on set by trying to have a ‘Least Convincing Transylvanian Accent’ competition and, if so, who won.

(Beckinsale. Just.)

mino gives this movie 3 out of 10.
Review created on Thu 1 Jul 2004

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Reader comments

  1. David did an excellent job as the side kick in this movie. His character never got left behind. Overall I really enjoyed it!

    Rating given: 6

    A comment from Rebekah on Sat 30 Oct 2004 14:05 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 6.00 (1 rating)

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