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"Van Helsing"

Directed by Stephen Sommers.
Written by Stephen Sommers.
Starring Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale and Richard Roxburgh.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  5/10/04


The four of us left the theater.

Mike "Yac" Iacovone, salty:  "Bell, that movie was horseshit."
Ross "Halo" Stephenson:  "Poo."
Chuck "The Verb" Longer:  "Jeez, man.  That was bad."
Justin "SoBe" Bell:  "Those special effects were pretty good..."

The other three looked at me, with that sense of impending danger:  could Justin possibly be thinking that those special effects saved "Van Helsing", the new adventure film starring Hugh Jackman, from legendary Hard Vice status?

See, Yac--like everybody else--loves the Hard Vice.  Needs it.  Yearns for it.  It's better when he's around in the movie theater after I see a Hard Vice, because my profanity (already bad in real life) is 62 times worse when I have just left the theater, and for good reason:  I just dropped nine bucks; the least they could do is give me a funny line, or one good action scene (like the otherwise horrible "A Man Apart"), or some tads, or something.  Hard Vice is something special...but, was "Van Helsing" really deserving?

"Look," Yac started.  "There isn't a single movie--comic book movie, action movie, sci-fi movie, horror movie--that isn't somehow ripped off in 'Van Helsing.'"

Then Ross chimed in.  He talked about the sheer number of bad lines, the missing logic (Dracula's angels can teleport at any time, but whenever they are getting shot at, they try to outrun bullets, spikes, holy water, etc.), the bad accents (what is Jackman trying to pull on us?), the fact that this film was directed by the same man that gave us "The Mummy" and "The Mummy Returns."  (Ross didn't remember that Stephen Sommers also gave us "Deep Rising."  Yeah.)

Chuck looked at his watch at least half a dozen times; at one point, Chuck asked me

"Yo, how long has this been going on for?"

My reply:  "Three days."

The consistent use of special effects helps justify a $150-million budget, but what does this add to the equation?  Like the similarly soulless "Hellboy", "Van Helsing" relies on special effects so heavily that Sommers somehow makes Jackman as uncharismatic as he has been onscreen, and the normally sexy Kate Beckinsale is a sideshow.  Every time there's a chance at a decent action scene, Sommers blows it; a sequence where Van Helsing and his merry gang travel from Transylvania to Budapest felt as long as it might really take going on horseback.

Those gaps in logic seem to span the whole film.  Van Helsing--essentially starring as Blade, for all intents and purposes--seems utterly indestructible, getting maimed all film long but getting up with nothing more than the occasional scratch.  For a place like Romania, you would think that Transylvania would be a cold, dank place, but at times, it seems like it's the fucking Amazon, with all of its ropes, chains, circuitry and other forms of swinging devices for all of the characters to continuously fall upon.  Do the undead work for Dracula?  I didn't know that...I then wondered why Dracula (played here by "M:I-2" star Richard Roxburgh) even bothered with recruiting a couple of living souls each month; why not just take bodies from the graveyard?  Transylvanian horses--touted by one onscreen character as "the fastest horses on Earth"--can also apparently carry Santa and his fucking sleigh once a year too, since they can damn near fly when faced with a fallen bridge.  Jeez, late in the film, Van Helsing takes on werewolf-like, in one scene, he jumps 20 stories into the air to enter a castle window.  In the VERY NEXT SCENE, rather than jumping up some stairs, he runs around a circular staircase.


At every turn, the film gets worse.  After particularly devastating robbery--at the hands of the James Bond films (you guessed it: Van Helsing has a friar that makes weapons for him, curiously not named "Q") or after a werewolf extends his nails ala Wolverine and scratches up a nearby statue--you sit there shaking your head, thinking "How did test audiences make this a reality??"  And, there it is, right in front of your eyes:  sheer, utter dogshit.

And, friends, the Frankenstein character in "Van Helsing"--from his makeup, to his gait, to his hilariously overwritten dialogue--deserves a Hard Vice rating all by himself.  I can't tell you how many times he seems to preach about the loss of humanity in the most improper of places...and then, five seconds later, he is screaming and beating his chest like a juiced-up Tarzan.  The four of us were laughing every time he was onscreen.

After I walked out of the theater, I also realized that in addition to dropping nine for the flick, I still had to pay to leave the garage.  Insult to injury was starting to make my ego hurt.  My mind was drifting.

"So?"  Yac was insistent.  "What are you gonna give it?"

Rating:  Hard Vice


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09