Transylvania Jones: Drac, Frank swing into action
The movie hog stuck his head in a theater and saw Van Helsing, which means four more months of summer movies.
On the premise that nothing succeeds like excess, Universal let that infernal showoff Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, The Mummy Returns) raid their vault with a license to steal. The result is awful, but not in an entirely bad way.
If in the 1930s Universal had had scads of money instead of James Whale's imagination, they might have produced Van Helsing then instead of their classic horror films. Audiences of the day would have been entertained in great numbers, but it's doubtful the film would be remembered as a classic generations later.
With all its flash and glitz, Van Helsing could be the first horror film to be turned into a Las Vegas show. Except that it's not a horror film; it's an action-adventure built around characters from horror films. Imagine a supernatural Indiana Jones movie without the slow parts.
A black-and-white opening sequence recreates the birth of Frankenstein's Monster (Shuler Hensley), not quite as faithfully as Mel Brooks did in Young Frankenstein. This is where Sommers starts taking liberties, because Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) is in the house, which is actually his castle. His plans for the Monster will be revealed soon.
Then we meet Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman), a monster hunter who is working for a secret order of the Catholic Church to eradicate evil creatures– vampires, werewolves, same-sex couples who wish to marry... (I just threw in that last part.) A cardinal sends him to Transylvania to protect the last surviving members of the Valerious family, which Dracula has been trying to wipe out for over 400 years.
In a scene right out of a James Bond movie (perhaps Jackman, mentioned as a candidate, is campaigning to take over the role?) Van Helsing is equipped with the latest gadgets by Carl (David Wenham), whose status as a friar, not a monk, allows him a lot of leeway. Our hero brings Carl along for comic relief, and he provides plenty of it. Not that you ever want for laughs during Van Helsing, but it's hard to tell whether many of them are intentional.
Van Helsing is too late to save Velkan Valerious (Will Kemp) from being bitten by a werewolf and turning into one himself. Our hero gets off to a bad start with Velkan's sister Anna (Kate Beckinsale) by trying to kill her brother in his lupine form. Jackman and Beckinsale make a hot couple– from their first scene together you can imagine them competing for Sexiest Couple at next year's MTV Movie Awards– but Sommers, with his prepubescent mentality, doesn't give them much chance to act on it.
Dracula has been saving his three wives' eggs for centuries and has thousands of them he can't hatch without electrical wires attached to Frankenstein's Monster. (Please don't ask me to explain anything in that sentence, but it's the basis of the plot.)
Sommers makes some interesting connections between characters, and answers some questions you may have had about them, but sense and logic are not his strong suits. If werewolves only become wolves during a full moon, how is a main character bitten by one three days before the next full moon? And there's no point to all the shape shifting during the climactic fight except that the effects budget allowed it.
The over-the-top nature of everything else is matched by Alan Silvestri's music. Only Bruce Broughton might have gone even further with it.
I can't say Van Helsing is good, let alone great, but it's absurdly exciting– more absurd than exciting– and gives you your money's worth if this is what you choose to spend it on.