While its creators put the cart before the proverbial approach when they decided to make Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the film they came up with, surprisingly, is more entertaining and deliriously funny than it has any right to be. Considering that Vampire Hunter is a straight adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith's novelty novel of the same name, director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Night Watch) did pretty much the best he could with inherently lumpy and often bland material. Watching Abe Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) learn how to fight evil vampires like Adam (Rufus Sewell) to get personal revenge and preserve the Union is often rather fun. So whenever computer-generated blood is spraying and vampires are lunging at the camera, Vampire Hunter is an energetic and fittingly over-the-top good time.
Unfortunately, a good chunk of the film is a stuffy melodrama about fidelity and protecting one's family. But these talky and tedious nonviolent sequences, meant to establish a human element to the drama, also have their immediate charms too. Both Sewell and supporting actor Anthony Mackie, as a freed slave and one of Lincoln's best friends, do well given the threadbare material they have to work with. And Bekmambetov makes good use of 3D photography, giving his film a sumptuously textured look. Dust motes, sawdust and smoke hang heavily throughout many scenes, giving the illusion of weight to the film's largely CG setpieces. Even at its worst, Vampire Hunter at least looks accomplished enough to be passably dopey. (Opens Friday) SIMON ABRAMS
Melancholia may have been the first movie to see the peculiar bright side in the end of the world, at least from a depressive's point of view: Finally, things can't get any worse! For a boldly unpleasant first half, Lorene Scafaria's comedy-drama mines similarly grim territory, only for laughs. If anything, the laughter-in-the-dark spin makes the movie even bleaker, as mopey insurance man Steve Carell not only contends with the onset of Armageddon three weeks hence but also getting dumped. (The latter is, of course, worse.) The funniest, most wounding bits come from people attempting to maintain some façade of normalcy as Chaos Reigns — like the corporate personnel meeting where new positions open with each new falling body, or the cocktail party thrown by Carell's friends Connie Britton and Rob Corddry, which devolves from too-bright chatter and rictus-grin matchmaking to "Wanna try some heroin?"
But once Keira Knightley enters as a flighty neighbor and improbable love interest, it's as if a comet whizzed past and sucked away all the movie's nerve. What starts as an edgy comedy about a morose navel-gazer so bummed out he can scarcely notice the collapse of civilization around him turns sappy and sentimental, a series of increasingly maudlin celebrity setpieces. (It's a bad sign when Carell gets saddled with a stray dog.) Add this also to the list of end-of-the-world movies where the heroes have ridiculously little trouble getting around, especially in the finale. That said, Carell and Knightley have a pleasant screwball chemistry, and the people who pop up in the movie's margins (from Mark Moses as an unruffled anchorman to Patton Oswalt as a lech taking advantage of womankind's pre-apocalyptic lack of choosiness) contribute some sly sketch-comedy beats. And there's one inspired scene that suggests why you might not want to spend the end of days in a T.G.I. Friday's. (Opens Friday) JIM RIDLEY
Richard Linklater's fact-based black comedy Bernie, with Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine (at Green Hills); and the Bollywood romantic fantasy Teri Meri Kahaani, featuring Shayid Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra in different roles set in 1910, 1960 and 2012 (at Hollywood 27). At Logue's Black Raven Emporium, 2915 Gallatin Road in East Nashville, 8 and 10 p.m. this Friday and Saturday: Richard Blackburn's obscure vampire thriller Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural, starring '70s cult favorite Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith.
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