Dir/scr:Stephen Sommers. US. 2004. 132 mins.

Thrillseekers looking for the maximum number of effects shots for their box officedollar (or pound, euro or yen) will get their money's worth fromwriter-director Stephen Sommers' $150m summer action-adventure Van Helsing. Which is just as well,because there's not much else to be got from this bland, rarely scary andoccasionally giggle-inducing Universal release that attempts to launch a newfranchise by matching three horror icons from the studio's library with a pairof mildly sexy monster hunters.

Anextensive, synergistic advertising campaign - for the movie itself as well asfor simultaneous tie-ins including DVDs, a video game, an animated prelude anda theme park ride - should still ensure a giant take from the PG-13 film'sday-and-date openings this weekend in the US and 50 international territories.And the international cast and settings could give the film fairly stronginternational legs.

ButVan Helsing's final performance - andits status as a franchise foundation - will depend heavily on the box officestrength or weakness of upcoming summer competition such as Troy, Shrek 2 and The Day AfterTomorrow. Big showings from one or more of those competitors could quicklybury this toothless retro horror effort.

Tohis credit, Sommers - who, of course, revived another Universal icon with hisblockbusters The Mummy and The Mummy Returns - tries to providesome dramatic justification for the appearance of three classic monsters in onefilm. It turns out that Dracula (Roxburgh) and his brides need Frankenstein'smonster (Hensley) - which we meet in a black and white pre-credit nod tovintage Universal horror - to give life to the next generation of vampires. Andthe Wolf Man (Kemp), it transpires, acts as a daytime guardian to the family ofvampires.

Thefilm's title character is a younger, better-equipped version of Dracula'soriginal nemesis, with a past that's only revealed in the story's final halfhour. This Van Helsing (Jackman) roams the world knocking off monsters for asecret religious sect. Having dispatched a bulked up Mr Hyde (who comes acrossas Shrek's evil twin) in Paris, our hero is teamed - in a moderately amusingJames Bond spoof sequence - with nerdy friar Carl (Wenham) and sent to Transylvaniato deal with Dracula. There, Van Helsing meets action chick Anna Valerious(Beckinsale), whose family has been battling the Count for generations.

VanHelsing and Anna's meeting leads swiftly into one of the film's more excitingsequences: an aerial attack on a snowy village by Dracula's three brides, whocan morph from scary winged demons into sultry sirens in the wink of abloodshot eye.

Afterthat promising start, however, the film turns into a parade of CGI-heavyeffects sequences. A few are quite effective but with virtually every scenepumped up for maximum visceral impact and almost no change of pace or rhythm,the action soon begins to go by in a blur. The only relief comes in the form ofsnippets of supposedly witty dialogue that might have come from a bad USsitcom.

Themonsters themselves are a letdown. There's nothing very new or intriguing inthe film's rock star version of Dracula and Frankenstein's monster has only acouple of fresh touches added to the familiar flat head and neck bolts. TheWolf Man is all digital effects and trousers.

Theactors, several of them delivering lines with caricature East European accents,get only brief opportunities to make any impact. Jackman brings a littlemoodiness to an otherwise mood-less movie, but the part gives him nothing tocompare to the relative complexities of his role in X2: X-Men United. Beckinsale (who earned her horror stripes in lastautumn's mid-level hit Underworld) goes through the entire film squeezed into acorset and tight leather trousers and accentuates her corny dialogue with avariety of histrionic expressions.

Prod cos: UniversalPictures, Sommers Company
US dist:
Int'l dist:
Exec prod:
Sam Mercer
Sommers, Bob Ducsay
Allen Daviau
Prod des: Allan Cameron
Bob Ducsay, Kelly Matsumoto
Music: Alan Silvestri
Costume des:
Gabriella Pescucci, Carlo Pogglioli
Special make-up: Greg Cannom
Visual effects supervisors: Ben Snow, Scott Squires
Main cast: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, RichardRoxburgh, David Wenham, Shuler Hensley, Elena Anaya, Will Kemp