Loud, proud and very Hollywood, Van Helsing is a fantasy blockbuster that never lets up. Hugh Jackman stars as the monster-mashing vigilante of the title, who sets out to off Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) in the depths of Transylvania. Teamed with vamp-hating totty Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale), Van the Man must battle the bloodsucker, his brutal brides, and the Wolfman (played by a bundle of CGI). Bung in Frankenstein's Monster (Shuler Hensley), Bondian gadgets and a tongue tucked firmly in its cheek and you've a lot of campy fun - even if it never elicits any real emotion.
Jackman, strangely, doesn't dominate as much as you might expect, given his ferociously charismatic, franchise-saving work in X-Men. Perhaps it's the struggle of acting opposite computer-generated images (which Ewan McGregor complained of in The Phantom Menace), but he's somewhat subdued - his wry and rugged screen presence drowned out by the uproar of relentless action. For Van Helsing is a videogame-style conveyor-belt of action-adventure set-pieces, its players barely given time to breathe before being plunged into the next confrontation. This eventually becomes a bit wearing - and the unconvincing FX plain silly - but there are some decent thrills and spills on the way to the cringey conclusion.
"KIDS WILL LIKELY LOVE IT"
With virtually everyone blabbing in an outrageous accent, anachronisms all round and style triumphing over sense, it's important to take Stephen Sommers' slick flick in the spirit it's intended. Sure, it's daft, but it's also funny and exciting and kids will likely love it (and it's a damn sight better than The Mummy Returns). Making himself heard above the noise, Roxburgh relishes the camp villainy of the Count, while The Lord Of The Rings' David Wenham impresses as Helsing's helpmate.
Hensley is also excellent as Frankenstein's Monster, capturing some of the wounded rage and empathy of the original ogre. For such a frantic, frothy film, there's a surprising amount of interest in the nature of the beast. Dracula is driven by the desire to create, characters are resigned to their inevitable evil ("It's just my nature," one whines), and - quite an achievement this - Hensley suggests a little soul within the shallow spectacle, bellowing out his pathetic desire "to exist". Give the creature his own feature.