Famed monster slayer Gabriel Van Helsing is dispatched to Transylvania to assist the last of the Valerious bloodline in defeating Count Dracula. Anna Valerious reveals that Dracula has formed an unholy alliance with Dr. Frankenstein's monster and is hell-bent on exacting a centuries-old curse on her family.
***Big Dumb Blockbuster Monster Fun*** Although writer/director Stephen Sommers had an unexpected hit with 1999's "The Mummy," he went overKILL with the 2001 sequel "The Mummy Returns," a prime example of modern blockbuster dreck that's full of explosions and "exciting" things going on, but somehow is strangely boring. That's the problem with 2004's "Van Helsing," although not as bad. THE PLOT: In 1887 Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) teams up with Anna (Kate Beckinsale) in Transylvania to fight Dracula, his three lovely but vicious brides, the Frankenstein monster, werewolves, vampire babies, etc. It won't take long for the viewer to perceive that "Van Helsing" shouldn't be taken too seriously. It's a partial parody/homage of the classic Universal monster movies and part serious, just barely. Imagine "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (1992) with the over-the-top thrills of Indiana Jones and the flair of classic monster parodies like “The Vampire Happening” (1971) or "Young Frankenstein” (1974) and you'd have a good approximation. The film looks good, but there's too much CGI and some of the monsters look really cartoony, like Mr. Hyde and the werewolves. Others look quite good, like the flying vampire brides and Frankenstein's monster. As was the case with "The Mummy Returns" the film is strangely tedious despite all the manic happenings. Thankfully, there are worthy hints of depth, e.g. the Frankenstein monster and Anna. I wish there was more. Speaking of Anna, Kate Beckinsale is definitely one of the highlights here as she looks stunning throughout in an amazing form-fitting costume and thigh-high boots seemingly appropriate for the late 1800s (speaking as someone who’s not even a Beckinsale fan). Josie Maran and Elena Anaya are also striking as two of Dracula's wives, Marishka and Aleera. Needless to say, excellent job on the female front. On the other side of the spectrum, Jackman is a great, masculine leading man, perfect for the role. Richard Roxburgh (Dracula), David Wenham (Carl), Kevin J. O'Connor (Igor) and Shuler Hensley (Frankenstein’s monster) are all entertaining or effective. At the end of the day, though, "Van Helsing" barely rises above the limitations of what it is: a big, dumb modern blockbuster with all its over-the-top trappings. Considering the $160 million thrown into it, it shoulda/coulda been better. The story needed time to breathe and less constant mania. The movie’s also over-long at 2 hours and 11 minutes. Still, it's better than "The Mummy Returns" and there's enough here to make it worthwhile, if you're in the mood for this type of fare. THE FILM WAS SHOT in the Czech Republic, Rome and Paris with studio work done in Southern Cal and Orlando, Florida. GRADE: B-/C+