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
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
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.