DVD Drop: Good idea, bad idea
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter comes to video shelves
Benjamin Walker in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (20th Century Fox)
Every movie starts with an idea. Sometimes that idea is "let's explore what drove a repressed Englishman to unite the Arab nations in WWI;" sometimes it's "hey, those Transformers movies sure make a lot of money; is there anything else that could benefit from giant alien robots?" And every once in a while, we see a picture that springs from a concept so bizarre, so entirely crazy, that it makes us wonder whether someone dosed us with peyote before the lights went down.
This week, not one but three of those movies come to disc. And I'll walk you through them, if you promise to try to suspend your disbelief.
With Steven Spielberg's Lincoln on its way to theatres, the time couldn't be more right to bring home Timur Bekmambetov's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Based on Seth Grahame-Smith's ingeniously unhinged counter-factual history, which revealed that America's 16th President moonlighted as an axe-wielding scourge of the undead, it's a high-wire feat of madness from Bekmambetov, the mad Russian behind Night Watch, Day Watch and Wanted.
Some directors might balk at a sequence that blames the death of Lincoln's young son William on a vampire attack; others might balk at the action scene that features a vampire picking up a horse and throwing it at our hero during a stampede. Bekmambetov does not balk, instead urging his star, Benjamin Walker, to power through each new challenge with the fortitude of the Great Emancipator himself, abetted ably by Captain America's Dominic Cooper and The Adjustment Bureau's Anthony Mackie. (I'm not entirely sure Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays Mary Todd Lincoln, was entirely in on the joke.)
As the movie races towards its spectacular climax - which folds in Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, because what the hell - it becomes clear that Bekmambetov has found a perverse joy in working without a net. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter dares to be as preposterous as its title; it's like an improv game of "yes, and" being played by university students who've just tried meth for the first time. This is an endorsement.
Another attempt to play horror for laughs doesn't land quite as well. Boris Rodriguez's Eddie, the Sleepwalking Cannibal suffers from a concept that's not quite crazy enough, being the story of Lars (Thure Lindhart, who fares far better in Ira Sachs' drama Keep the Lights On), a Danish artist who's fallen on hard times. It's been a decade since he was inspired to paint, and he's had to take a teaching gig at a dinky art school somewhere in central Ontario.
But everything changes when he takes in the eponymous misfit (Dylan Smith), an awkward mute given to bloody nighttime walkabouts. Lars finds inspiration in Eddie's violence and unrestrained id. And then, well, an artist has to encourage his muse to keep inspiring him, doesn't he?
It's the same notion behind Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood and Herschell Gordon Lewis' Color Me Blood Red, though both of those films revolved around murderers who used their victims in their art. Eddie, the Sleepwalking Cannibal neither embraces the horror nor the potential for black comedy; the connection between Eddie's unconscious savagery and Lars' conscious art just sort of happens, because otherwise there wouldn't be a movie. And the movie never finds a reason for us to care about any of the characters.
But as problematic as Eddie ultimately proves, it looks like a frickin' masterpiece of concept compared to our final entry, Nicole Kassell's spectacularly wrong-headed A Little Bit of Heaven. It's a romantic comedy with a twist - and the twist is colorectal cancer.
That's not a spoiler, by the way; this isn't one of those curveball rom-coms where someone gets sick in the third act. No, the terminal diagnosis is right up front, shaking up the hard-partying life of Kate Hudson's hard-partying single gal - and further complicating her unexpected attraction to her doctor (Gael Garcia Bernal). Also, she has conversations with God, and God is played by Whoopi Goldberg.
So, yeah. A Little Bit of Heaven is easily the worst idea for a Kate Hudson romantic comedy yet. And remember, this is the person who made Fool's Gold, Bride Wars and Something Borrowed, which would suggest either that she really has no idea how she comes across on screen, or that she picks scripts based entirely on their titles, never reading the actual content until she's signed the contract.
On one hand, that seems awfully efficient; on the other, well, you end up making movies like A Little Bit of Heaven, which never, ever had a chance of working. I'm not saying there's no way to make cancer funny - Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen got a little mileage out of that subject with 50/50 just last year - but this specific script, with its squishy spirituality and utterly unlikeable characters, was never gonna fly.
Maybe they should have thrown in a vampire horde. After all, if it worked for Abraham Lincoln...
E-mail Norman Wilner at firstname.lastname@example.org