STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Shuler Hensley, Elena Anaya, Will Kemp, Kevin J. O'Connor

2004, 131 Minutes, Directed by: Stephen Sommers

Van Helsing is the story of a man, engaged in an “alternative lifestyle” relationship with three women . . .

It does not sound all that exciting (unless you’re maybe the guy in question). That is, unless one mentions that the trigamist being referred to is one Count Dracula, vampire lord and all that, and that the women in question are his three “brides”.

However, being technically dead, it only stands to reason that their offspring would be born dead as well. Not that this seems to have deterred them in any substantial way: they have had hundreds of the little undead tykes stashed away (hanging from the roof in cocoons, a bit like in Aliens I suppose) in Castle Dracula. I guess that there isn’t much to do throughout the long long centuries being an Undead Lord of the Vampires, except, well, you know what . .

Anyway, to animate their countless siblings (man, they must want children badly!) Count Dracula enlists the services of one Doctor Victor Frankenstein, whose experiments with reviving dead human flesh with large amounts of spectacular-looking electricity might just be the ticket in reviving the hordes of hellish offspring, resembling little flying demons. (In one scene, wave upon wave of them – reminding one a bit of the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz – attack some Transylvanian peasants. “And you thought we have trouble controlling our little tyke,” I leaned over to my wife and remarked. A trip to the zoo must be hell!)

"Silly summer blockbuster fun, but not as silly nor as fun as it could have been . . ."

However, plans go awry when said pesky villagers, carrying torches and pitch forks, lynch Castle Frankenstein (I often wonder what the mortgage payments on all these castles might be). These are during the film’s opening sequence which is filmed in Black & White. A homage then. “Transylvania 1896” the cue card helpfully informs one. You don’t say, I chuckled . . .

Fast forward a year. Legendary hunter of ghouls Van Helsing (played by X-Men’s wolverine, Hugh Jackman, in auto pilot mode) is sent off by the Vatican (!) to kill the heretic Charles Darwin, er I mean, Count Dracula. Along the way he is helped by a comic relief monk (“I’m just a friar actually,” he informs everyone whenever he is about to transgress some code of Catholic practice) and the shapely Kate Beckinsale (who played the hot vampire in Underworld and the object of Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett’s affections in the crappy Pearl Harbor). It would seem that Frankenstein’s monster has survived the lynch mob somehow and might just be the key to the Count’s plans to revive his hordes of flying siblings . . .

As you might have gathered, Van Helsing has a rather extraordinary premise. However, it is the third recent film in a row which had extraordinary ideas behind them, but resulted in a rather unextraordinary movie. The others were The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Underworld. League had several fictional Victorian characters like the Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde Invisible Man, Captain Nemo, Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey, and so forth grouping together to fight an evil guy hanging out in a huge gothic castle. Underworld also had its fair share of Goth mansions as werewolves battled it out with vampires. (Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Van Helsing also features werewolves and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde.)

Van Helsing is better than both these movies because, well, maybe I was in a better mood. Maybe because a lot in Van Helsing is unintentionally funny (like the over-the-top Romanian accents of Dracula’s harpies, er, wives who reminded me of the one in Clash of the Titans). Or maybe it was Richard Roxburgh’s overacting as Dracula as well. I don’t know. At least Van Helsing has one good action set piece (involving a coach chase).

Typical of director Stephen Sommers (who also did The Mummy movies) there is an overabundance of CGI effects, a very loud soundtrack, some failed broad humor and not one moment of originality. (The movie rips off the Indiana Jones movies, James Bond, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, spaghetti Westerns, Batman, you name it.)

Sadly though Hugh Jackman is criminally underutilized. He had much more screen persona and charisma in the recent X-Men 2.

Ultimately Van Helsing is silly summer blockbuster fun, but not as silly or as fun as it could have been. While you’ll have a decent time watching it, you’ll probably forget ever having seen it in a week’s time or so.

At least there are no annoying kids (a la Mummy Returns) around this time – even those little flying vampire kids were an improvement . . .



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