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Underworld (R)
Sony Pictures
Official Site
Director: Len Wiseman
Producers: Robert Bernacchi, Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg, Richard S. Wright
Written by: Kevin Grevioux, Len Wiseman, Danny McBride
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman

Rating: out of 5

Underworld is an attempt to blend the romance of Romeo and Juliet with the supernatural world of vampires and werewolves. This sounds like a clever idea. And indeed it must be because many years prior an author named Nancy Collins wrote a novel set in White Wolf’s World of Darkness™ about—surprise, surprise—a vampire and werewolf falling in love. Truly there are no original ideas. Even as this review is being written White Wolf and Ms. Collins are involved in a lawsuit against Sony Pictures. Those familiar with White Wolf’s World of Darkness™ publications will notice a great many similarities between the two works; the terminology used is often identical. Most damning of all is that those without a background in the World of Darkness™ or at the very least, Anne Rice, will be totally lost during the film.

The star-crossed lovers in our tale are Selene (Beckinsale), the vampire assassin, and Michael (Speedman), a pawn of the werewolves. The film is only an attempt at remaking the work of Shakespeare because the romantic angle is the first casualty in the hail of bullets that follows. The plot itself is so full of holes it seems that someone may have raked the script with a few machine gun blasts, leaving the audience to piece it all together. Often the music will swell ominously when a character makes a pronouncement only to leave the audience in the dark as to why it was important. When Michael and Selene kiss it feels more out of necessity for the plot than from any real chemistry between the two.

As befits a film about vampires, Underworld is dark and gothic. High-rises create deep chasms in the heart of the city, the sky is perpetually overcast and raining, and most important of all, EVERYBODY is wearing black leather or skintight latex. Other gothic movies—say, Interview With The Vampire and The Crow—were at least willing to admit to the existence of a rainbow of colors before fading to black, but here it is all black all the time; well, with the occasional shade of blue. Being so dark and everyone wearing black and all, it’s impossible to tell who’s who during the movie’s many shoot-outs. Perhaps the darkness helps cover up some second-rate CGI effects whenever the werewolves would shapeshift?

Beckinsale elevates Underworld from the realm of pure trash to the level of B-movie/cult classic. She is on screen for nearly 90% of the movie and she makes the most of it, delivering dialogue with a straight face and almost succeeding in creating chemistry with her male lead despite the fact that neither of them have anything to work with. She is a death dealer in top form: Whenever she fires werewolves drop like tenpins and her kung fu is the best. To conceal her diminutive size the camera will often follow her at knee level, looking up to create the illusion of stature. Michael gives Speedman little to do except have seizures and get tied up. At one point in the movie Selene discovers pictures of him smiling with another woman, presumably his wife/girlfriend, but these finer details are never revealed to the audience. If Michael had been more fleshed out it would have helped the audience understand how he could fall in love with a blood-sucking vampire.

Underworld occasionally succeeds in spite of itself. The costumes are derivative but cool and the set design is pretty in a dark gothic kind of way. Unfortunately the movie is so dark they’re both somewhat obscured. The film’s biggest mistake is letting the story degenerate into an action movie. Once that happens the characters’ supernatural origins are just excuses for cheesy special effects and forgettable fights. The only thing Underworld has to offer is that its main characters are vampires and werewolves. Everything else is the same as a dozen other bad action movies released this year. Ultimately the characters and story are as lifeless as the undead onscreen.

—Woodrow Bogucki


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