(2004)2Jeremy WheelerWith a budget reportedly weighing in at a hefty 160 million dollars, Van Helsing is a bloated excuse for a crowd-pleaser whose excessive effects and humorless tone will undoubtedly suck the life out its audience long before the credits roll. While director Stephen Sommers believed that he was making the ultimate homage to the beloved Universal monsters, the 13-year-old in him just couldn't help but make every scene bigger and cooler than anything that came before -- thus successfully embracing a code of filmmaking ethics where nothing is too much. It's ironic, then, that everything in the film is just that -- too much! The movie is over two hours for starters (there's a reason the classics run only 70 minutes, guys, and its not because they didn't have enough money), with every minute soaked in an Alan Silvestri score from hell. Needless to say, the mariachi guitars mixed with your standard bombastic adventure music feel awkward from the get-go and only tend to annoy after that. The monsters themselves -- the whole reason to make the movie in the first place -- are lifeless and extremely poor on just about every level. Richard Roxburgh plays Dracula exactly to Eurotrash type, while Frankenstein's monster has been transformed into a Bible-quoting intellectual. The Wolf Man is covered by not one, not two, but, yes, three different werewolves in the film -- resulting in certainly one of the strangest character twists to appear on a big screen. Lord of the Rings alumni David Wenham does pull off a quirky role as Van Helsing's version of Q, but it almost seems as if his comedy was tamed down in the final hours and Wenham was basically relegated to a few witty quips that never really fly on the sidekick level they should. If you're looking for the titular hero to pack in a few winks at the audience, you might as well stop right there and turn around. Hugh Jackman is dashing and certainly handsome in the lead role, but is given literally nothing to work with in the script department except a "mysterious" backstory. The same can be said about Kate Beckinsale and her bootleg Transylvanian accent too. So, basically, you have all of these lame characters running (or better yet, swinging) around huge action set pieces that couldn't look any worse if they tried.
To say this flick is CG overload is an understatement! A few things work -- Dracula's brides have a neat look to them, but what was that Mr. Hyde creature all about? And what exactly does he have to do with the movie? Oh, that's right, cue in product tie-in à la the animated straight-to-DVD prequel Van Helsing: The London Assignment (which is actually ten times more entertaining). With most of the effects moving so fast that you're never given a chance to fully appreciate their design, the film then becomes one scene of highly caffeinated and soulless eye candy after another. When the end fight between two terrible CG creations eventually comes, you'll either be ready for some Motrin or too busy dying of laughter from the ludicrous nature of what this mess has turned into. In fact, Van Helsing probably works better as an unintentional comedy than any kind of horrific thrill ride, which is never truer than in the final moments, which are best left unsaid due to their shocking cheese value. On the plus side, the costumes, the sets, and the stark palette of the cinematography all have moments of brilliance to them -- they're just not enough to float this monster's boat.