It sounds like a Dennis Miller joke from an old "Weekend Update" on "Saturday Night Live." You remember -- Miller would do one of his pseudo-anchor stints and prove, in just a few short minutes, to be the snottiest and most superior comedian who ever lived. He'd smilingly deliver lines that proved conclusively how dumb the world was.
Picture Miller's infuriatingly cheery smile making fun of Hollywood executives -- guys so lacking in taste and higher vision they'd make anything. What's next, you can picture Miller asking rhetorically, "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter?"
Well, here we are in the Mayans' favorite year 2012, and it's opening at your friendly neighborhood megaplex today. And it's truly nuts. And yes, it posits our 16th president -- and symbol of individual freedom and nationhood and believer in "the better angels of our nature" -- as a fellow so furious at his mother's murder by vampires that he spent his life hunting them out and burying a silver-edged ax into their skulls.
Which would make our most beloved and admired president a secret serial killer.
But wait. You ain't heard nuthin' yet, as the old vaudevillian used to say. Wait until you see the train hurtling through the night carrying silver to Gettysburg to melt into bullets to kill the Confederate soldiers who are all, yes, secretly vampires.
They're everywhere, they're everywhere, as some 19th century Glenn Beck might have said, and that was really what the Civil War was all about. It was the vampires' big move to have a "country of our own" as the blood-sucking head honcho (Rufus Sewell) puts it.
And here is the nuttiest thing of all about "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter": so much of it -- including little plot fillips you think must have been invented by Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote the novel and screenplay -- is based on truth.
So yes, Lincoln had a lifelong best friend from Springfield, Ill. named Joshua Speed. And yes, there was a black free man named Will Johnson in Springfield who went with Lincoln to Washington. (He was, in reality, Lincoln's valet and barber, but it's a tiny stretch to think of him as someone Lincoln confided in and perhaps even defended as a boy against a vicious slaveowner.) And yes, Mary Todd was once courted by Stephen Douglas, which gives the Lincoln/Douglas debates a psychosexual context that's almost as entertaining to contemplate as Lincoln dispatching blood suckers.
Is it fun, one might ask? Frankly, if you're seeing a movie as nuts as this, you don't really have much choice but to have fun. If you're offended at the pitilessly juvenile comic book misunderstanding of Lincoln -- the greatest writer ever to inhabit the White House and perhaps its noblest and most troubled thinker -- as an ax-wielding homicidal vigilante (we call them "action heroes" in movies these days), you wouldn't be in the audience in the first place.
Benjamin Walker -- a sometime comic -- makes for a startlingly apt-looking Lincoln, 6 feet 3 inches tall, according to the Internet Movie Database, and lean as a rail. Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes for a beautiful and fresh-looking Mary Todd (who, for all her vivacity, was nothing of the sort).
Nor is Walker the only sometime comic in the cast. Take a good look at Jimmi Simpson who plays Lincoln's very, very close friend Joshua Speed. Yes, he's the guy you used to see on "Late Night With David Letterman" as Letterman's lazy, impudent, vile intern Lyle.
Grahame-Smith also wrote Tim Burton's not-so-hot "Dark Shadows" recently, but this thing is a lunatic's lunch if ever there was one.
What I love about Timur Bekmambetov, the Russian director of "Wanted," is how brilliantly he's given this movie an amazing 3-D look, as if it came, in part, from those old 3-D images you'd see in primitive Stereopticons and, in part, from old Courier and Ives prints (one image, in particular, of a Mississippi filled with riverboats).
Put simply: When you buy a ticket for "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," you know very well what you hope to get out of it and you get it.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER
Review: 3 stars (Out of 4)
STARRING: Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
DIRECTOR: Timur Bekmambetov
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
RATING: R for lots of blood and beheadings and a little sex.
THE LOWDOWN: The 16th president of the United States travels around burying a silver-edged ax into nasty vampires.