For every film that benefits from special effects improvements such as spectacular car explosions that fling underpaid stuntmen for miles or body-shaping that makes Lara Flynn Boyle appear almost lifelike, there's a film like "Van Helsing" in which the barrage of CGI sucks the life out of everyone in the theater faster than marrying Anna Nicole Smith.
At the beginning of "Van Helsing," it appears that Stephen ("The Mummy") Sommers is prepared to deliver his predictable brand of tongue-in-cheek action film, but then the film's 19th century European impressionist ethos and matching color palette (grays, blacks, whites, and cold blues) get the best of him, driving the movie into a kind of dark psychological funk unseen since Robert Downey Jr.'s last stint in rehab. Think Edvard Munch's "The Scream" for both context and the proper emotional reaction.
Simply put, nothing is enough here, and it's like being force-fed rice cakes with a shovel. Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) is no longer simply Dracula's nemesis: He's a fighter of all things evil in a story that reads like Sommers's dog chewed up a library of Evil Cliffs Notes and barfed up a script. Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) leads the chaos, but to recount the story in any way that makes sense would require about twenty more paragraphs and an abacus. Suffice it to say that if Van Helsing kills Dracula and a variety of minions including three female vampires, a werewolf, Count Chocula, and possibly Frankenstein's monster (Shuler Hensley), he will save Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) from eternal purgatory and a role in "Underworld 2."
Frankenstein appears to have nuclear waste in his head. The Wolfman is a dull effect. Finally, Dracula seems less like a guy who needs a silver stake through the heart and more like a perturbed fellow who just requires a laxative. And does Hugh Jackman's name bother anybody else?
So many convoluted ideas writhe through "Van Helsing" that it feels like being locked in an espresso stand with Brittany Murphy. The final sequence in Dracula's secret hideaway is practically a case study in idiotic serendipity, and the final fight contains "twelve strokes of midnight" that last about twenty minutes.
If deep characterizations were the literary lynchpins for Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, they're sunlight and garlic for Sommers.
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