This is not what I would call a good movie. It’s characters are too thin, the romance too contrived, the structure too loose, and the theme too scattershot, but what it lacks in some of the basic building blocks of storytelling it partially makes up for in charm and a deep seeded desire to entertain no matter what. Those two aspects make Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing something of a guilty pleasure for me. No, it’s not good, but I enjoy it every time I watch it.
Delving into the story is an exercise not really worth the effort because it’s too manically told with the passion of an adolescent hopped upon Red Bull and Mountain Dew, throwing his toys together with a shocking amount of energy at two in the morning. Essentially, Gabriel (not Abraham) Van Helsing is a monster hunter working for Rome, and he carries the burden of being called a murderer because everyone sees the results of his work but not the efforts. It’s a question that the movie brings up from time to time but has little to not ability to expand upon beyond the initial ask. It’s not concerned with Van Helsing as a man but as a vehicle through which to drive the audience through the plot and hang a couple of mysterious questions about his past that area supposed to add to the overall mystery.
He gets sent to Transylvania along with Carl, a friar who ends up acting as Q to the James Bond that is Van Helsing, supplying him with weapons along the way. Carl is one of the biggest sources of fun in the film. He’s the fish out of water, not a field man, and he’s played really wittily by David Wenham. When he doesn’t seem to be having a blast, he’s amusingly out of his element with a creaky voice that barley conceals pure terror.
In Transylvania, Van Helsing meets up with Anna Valerious, a Romanian princess descended from a long line of hunters out to kill Dracula. Her brother gets turned into a werewolf and she helps Van Helsing fight off an attack of three flying Brides of Dracula. The basic plot is that Dracula is trying to use the technology that brought Frankenstein’s monster to life in order to bring his large cadre of dead-born children to life. There are chases, fights, explosions, and all manner of chaos.
The movie’s best sequence comes late at a masquerade ball where Dracula has captured Anna and is trying to trade her for Frankenstein’s monster that Van Helsing has found. It’s a visual delight with acrobatics, dancing, singing, and special effects. The movie’s ultimate climax in Dracula’s castle makes the mistake of having both the hero and the villain transform into CGI monsters, robbing the audience of investment in the conflict by hiding the faces of those we’ve spent time with, but since there’s no real investment to be had, it’s not as bad as it could have been.
Really, it’s not good. I went back and found Roger Ebert’s three star review of the film, and I agree with everything he said. However, I just can’t quite say that even though I have a good time with the film that it’s actually good. That’s all I need, right? To have a good time? Well, it’s thin entertainment that doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny, the sort of thing I couldn’t watch too frequently because the sloppy construction would get to me.
It’s a guilty pleasure, and I have no real problem admitting that.