Movie Information

Genre: Horror Action
Director: Len Wiseman
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Shane Brolly, Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy
Rated: R

The only consistent thing about this strange hybrid is its relentless blue-gray color scheme. If you’ve seen the trailer, then you’ve seen the look of the entire film — which, for all intents and purposes, might have been shot in black and white. Otherwise, Underworld is an inexpressibly silly creation that exists somewhere in the shadow land that separates video games and movies.

The film may not be based on a video game, but with its seemingly endless barrage-o’-bullets approach, its constant shock effects (something is always popping up to menace the characters) and its stream of CGI werewolves (I, for one, am ready for a return to werewolves who walk on two legs and wear pants), it looks like it ought to have been. And that’s the best thing about the movie.

Take away its look and all you’re left with is an indifferent Matrix clone that’s annexed a Capulets-and-Montagues blood feud and encased it in fetishistic leather outfits. Even granting that Kate Beckinsale looks less absurd and uncomfortable in her ersatz dominatrix togs (think Diana Rigg as Emma Peel with fangs) than Ben Affleck looked in his Daredevil suit, it doesn’t alter the fact that she’s mired in one pretty derivative, wrong-headed and, frankly, boring movie. If the idea of vampires fighting werewolves sounds good to you, think again. Call me a stick-in-the-mud traditionalist, but I just don’t get the good out of supernatural creatures that pack more heat than Rambo on a rampage, and I really don’t care that the vampires have new-and-improved silver bullets that inject silver nitrate into any hapless lycanthrope that gets in their way, nor am I impressed with the Vitamin D-enhanced (or whatever they are) bullets that bring a little sunshine into the undeads’ world. The whole point of these characters being supernatural has gotten lost in a movie that’s drunk on the phony excitement of random gunplay.

All this is more like a half-hearted replay of the bad parts of Guillermo Del Toro’s uneven, but occasionally interesting, Blade II. But even that retreading is preferable to what passes for plot and more traditional nods at the horror film. The story line is impossibly convoluted without ever being interesting. You see, there’s this war between vampires and werewolves; and, even though there’s a lot of not very convincing backstory, it really doesn’t matter why they’re fighting, since all of it is just an excuse for the battles. And then there’s this fellow named Michael (Scott Speedman), in whom the werewolves are very interested — apparently for purposes of crossbreeding the two species. I was never entirely clear on the exact reason for this bout of genetic engineering — maybe because I didn’t care — but then I was also never clear on why Selene (Beckinsale) falls for Michael and risks her cushy position as the protected pet of long-slumbering arch-vampire Viktor (Bill Nighy). Similarly, I was utterly baffled as to why Viktor sported an outrageous stage-Southern accent when first awakened from his sleep, and then he proceeded to become more British as he regained his strength.

But more than anything else, I was confounded by what anyone involved with Underworld thought he or she was doing — and what I thought I was doing watching the results.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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