Cinema Review – Van Helsing

Titillating tosh

The only way to watch Van Helsing is to abandon any knowledge you may have of any of the following novels – Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jeckel and Mr Hyde, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. The reason for this is writer and director Stephen Sommers, of The Mummy films fame, has merged these three classic texts into a swashbuckling vampire/monster/werewolf blockbuster screenplay, complete with a hero, a heroine, baddies and copious special effects.

In fact, for those of you who are into this kind of chaotic visual excess, the effervescent effects are perhaps the only reason to go and see this film – they are certainly its most memorable feature. Each frame is packed with hunted killers leaping about the screen, with lots of other slimy, wriggly unidentifiable things, that are not at all relevant to the shred of plot that barely hangs from this movie, but look clever anyway. Propelled by an equally eclectic and relentless score by Alan Silvestri, Sommers’ movie is irritatingly likeable – you may be able to turn your nose up at the basic nature of the film, but you’ll be hard pushed to actually dislike it.

Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) is employed by some kind of investigation centre – based at the Vatican no less – which sends him on various assassination missions for the good of the religious world. He apparently appeared at the Pope’s door years earlier, half-dead and suffering from amnesia. His only memory is of fighting the Romans at Masada, but this movie is set in the late 19th century. This is all explained in a very obvious twist. I won’t reveal what this is, not because it would spoil the movie if I did, but because you’ll work it out anyway.

Hugh Jackman (Wolverine in the X-Men movies) looks like something out of a Western, but aside from this, is perfectly cast as our hero. He has the necessary athletic buoyancy for a title role and looks the part when he’s sweaty, oily and wearing a loin cloth – there is no attempt to even pretend this is for any other reason than to titillate.

Kate Beckinsale plays Transylvanian Anna, whose family has been trying, to no avail, to destroy Dracula for hundreds of years. In short, she is a total pain in the bum. I first saw Beckinsale in Kenneth Brannagh’s Much Ado about Nothing and she was fantastic. But, since then something has gone horribly wrong because in this movie when she is not fighting girl on girl with vampires, or saving Helsing’s useless, but highly intelligent assistant, she spends her time squatting, literally, just squatting. Oh, I almost forgot, she also adopts a very convincing dour scowl too. I am satisfied that her direction from Sommers consisted of no more than ‘if in doubt, squat’. Add that to the fact she is wearing skin-tight leggings and hopefully you get the picture. The problem is, she is not very good as the sexy, yet capable vampire-hunter heroine. Rather than leaping around looking gorgeous, she just looks gorgeous, which is not quite as effective.

When it comes to the baddies, Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) is nothing much to be scared of– he looks suitably evil and morphs superbly into a very un-scary vampire/bat-type thing. The Mr Hyde character (voice from Robbie Coltrane) is a hideous computer-generated giant, with a huge bum-cleavage and Frankenstein’s monster is just plain boring.

All in all, the action rip-roars through the film to keep you interested, but if you want any kind of character development or sub-plot, you can forget it. It’s one to watch and then immediately not remember the details of five minutes later. You will probably enjoy your two hours at the cinema, but when you leave you could be forgiven for wondering why.

1 STAR: Lots of action, lots of titillation – for both men and women, but nothing particularly special or memorable