Release Date: 5/7/04
Director: Stephen Sommers
Music: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Josie Maran
Excessively loud and silly fluff that insults both the audience and the source material, but at least the colors are pretty. Count Dracula (a sorely miscast Richard Roxburgh) employs the services of Dr. Frankenstein to recreate his reanimation experiment, and a new monster is created. He doesn't last long, though, as an angry mob shows up on the scene to put him away. One year later, Vatican hitman Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) is sent to Romania to aid Anna Valerious (stunning Kate Beckinsale) in slaying Dracula, which proves to be a difficult task since he's impervious to sunlight, holy water, garlic, wooden stakes, and Christian symbols. How curious. Dracula and his brides have been busy over the years and have plans to take over the world with their offspring, and all they need to complete their task is Frankenstein's creation, which Van Helsing unwittingly supplies. A mind-numbing barrage of special effects pits all of these legendary characters against each other with predictable results.
First of all, the film is pure eye candy and nothing else. But damn, it sure does look nice! The visual effects, while attractive, are boring, ridiculous, and excessive, effectively eliminating any human element that might have been in the film. Hugh Jackman looks great with his black leather, buff body, long hair, and Indiana Jones scruffiness, but his delivery is completely lifeless. It's amazing to me just how incredibly dull his performance is, given the fact that the film is little more than a star vehicle for him. Fortunately, awe inspiring Kate Beckinsale is there to back him up, and the movie literally belongs to her. She's the only one in the film with a spark of life, and she dominates every frame that she's in. She's utterly amazing with her fierce eyes, seductive eyebrows, and defiant mouth, and she handles her action scenes with an uncompromising convicition that I've rarely seen outside of Asian cinema. Plus, she wears really awesome boots. Wowzers. I'm really looking forward to seeing her continue to cultivate her action persona, because she really has what it takes to make it big. Fashion model Josie Maran (a personal favorite of mine) finally makes it into a big budget film as Marishka, but sadly has no more than a minute or two of screen time. How very disappointing. David Wenham painfully provides the comic relief for the film, which is made even more difficult to watch after seeing his wonderful work in Peter Jackson's "The Lord Of The Rings." And finally, Richard Roxburgh as Count Dracula is just absurd. His performance is campy and over the top, and he's not even close to the cultured European aristocrat that you would expect.
The most disturbing aspect of the film, however, is Sommers' complete disregard and disrespect for the established mythology of the source material. It seems like every vampire movie from the last twenty years has re-invented the vampire lore, but this film throws everything away and makes up something completely different. Additionally, throwing three of Universal's classic characters together into the same film is just a recipe for disaster. Ultimately, if you don't care about the story or the characters, "Van Helsing" is a marginally entertaining thrill ride that's instantly forgettable, apart from Ms. Beckinsale's piercing gaze (which will haunt me until the day I die).