In the late 19th century, over one bad weekend, beastie-hunter Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) battles Dracula, Dracula's wives, Dracula's children, Frankenstein's monster, a werewolf, Igor, some memory problems, the full moon and the stray villager in this stupendously bad re-imagining of classic horror films. Lending an unsheathed sword is the saucy Transylvanian princess Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale), whose family has a centuries-old feud with Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) and whose last remaining relative has gone lupine.
Besides dumping most of Universal's fabled monsters into one film, writer/director Stephen Sommers, who gave us the recent Mummy revival, shamelessly borrows from everywhere and anywhere: The film opens by revisiting Dr. Frankenstein's final hours, followed by a pointless prologue in which Van Helsing battles Mr. Hyde (who is a dead ringer for a pale Hulk) in the bell tower at Notre Dame. (What?!) Van Helsing gets outfitted in a subterranean lab that's a Victorian riff on Q's lair of Bond toys. There's a stagecoach chase and Western-style shoot-'em-up; endless high-performance swinging (Spider-Man); creatures crumbling to dust (The Mummy); and pulsating pods (Alien). Beckinsdale -- outfitted in skin-tight spandex pants, a studded leather corset, high-heeled boots with bondage buckles, an embroidered bolero coat and lots of billowing hair -- looks like she beamed in from a late-'80s Cher video. It's enough to make your head spin ... and, if this film is any clue, issue sparks and explode.
Because the whole damn 132-minute conceit is entirely suspended by special effects, I felt literally bombarded by ones and zeros as creatures shape-shifted, horses flew, lightning ricocheted off all and sundry, clouds parted, enormous castles loomed. There's no plausible story, the dialogue is laughably bad, and the acting -- all dinner-theater Transylvanian accents! I might as well have purchased the co-released interactive computer game and shoved my head into it.
But what irked me most was the wholesale disregard of the back catalog. Sure, the fanboys can fret (and I'll back 'em up) that the "rules" that govern these creatures have been severely stretched without merit (Dracula is a super-vampire and can be killed only by the stupidest thing I'd ever heard of). But Van Helsing lacks what made those old films -- and by extension, the legends they were based on -- resonant, timeless works: The monsters were human. They were us, corrupted or cursed. They were to be feared, but also pitied, and their travails served as cautionary moral tales.
If you care about Frankenstein's creature, Dracula and the Wolfman, don't go see this dreadful, flash-and-crash mash-up. Unless you're curious what the sound of an estimated 150 million dollars exploding sounds like.