Monsters stink

Too much technique and not enough fun in Van Helsing

MONSTER SEASON Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) is impressed by the skills of monster-hunter Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman).

MONSTER SEASON Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) is impressed by the skills of monster-hunter Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman).

Rated 2.0

What with Dracula, the Wolf Man and the Frankenstein monster all on hand in the same story, Universal Pictures (the original Hollywood home of those creatures) has marketed Van Helsing as a sort of tribute to itself. As such, the new picture has its moments, but too much of it might serve as a case study in a modern Hollywood so top-heavy with presentation and technique that there’s precious little room left for real entertainment, let alone the thrills of terror and delight.

The title character has the name of the vampire hunter in the original Dracula tale, but here he’s recast as a much younger man and as a sort of 19th-century James Bond who dashes about in faux-Victorian versions of a black 10-gallon hat and a long leather coat (handed down, perhaps, from spaghetti westerns by way of TV’s Young Guns?) His sidekick is a Boccaccian monk (David Wenham) who is not quite ready to renounce the physical pleasures.

That sort of slap-happy eclecticism is one of the film’s half-buried virtues, but the B-movie nuttiness in all this gets thoroughly swamped in a senseless frenzy of A-movie scale and oppressively insistent production values.

The Frankenstein monster and the Wolf Man are anguished pawns in an absurdly convoluted tale of Dracula’s efforts to capitalize on Frankenstein’s creation while also completing a centuries-old vendetta against the Valerious clan, the last of whom is a sword-wielding, corset-wearing princess played by Kate Beckinsale. The back story includes yet another fantasy of Catholic conspiracy (obligatory in the year of The DaVinci Code and Gibson’s Passion?), and an early episode has Van Helsing doing battle with the Mr. Hyde side of Dr. Jekyll, who has somehow also morphed into the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The script by director Stephen Sommers has a good many comic elements, which might have justified the strangely mismatched performances—Jackman’s Eastwoodeness, Beckinsale’s absurd swashbuckling, Richard Roxburgh’s relentless campiness as Dracula. But all of that gets utterly obscured under the combined pummeling of Alan Silvestri’s clamorous score and the blindingly propulsive editing of Bob Ducsay and Kelly Matsumoto.

Only Kevin J. O’Connor (as Igor, Dr. Frankenstein’s once-faithful assistant) is able to make much of an impression among the secondary monster roles. The Frankenstein monster (Shuler Hensley) is the film’s most inventive and inspired instance of reinvention, art direction and special effects, but as with Mr. Hyde (Robbie Coltrane) and the incarnation of the Wolf Man, creature-character gets almost completely lost in the dimensionless unreality of computer generated images and action.