Underworld: Evolution

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 01/19/06 22:46:11

"Somehow manages to be both louder and dumber than the original."
1 stars (Sucks)

Note to the makers of “Underworld Evolution:” if Scott Speedman is not the most boring thing about your movie, then something has gone horribly wrong with your movie.

This sequel to “Underworld” (itself a miserably unentertaining mess) is indeed unbearably boring, seeming to drone on for at least three times its 106 minute running time. I’m always baffled by movies such as this one; when a group of people spend months, perhaps years, working on creating just the right story, perfecting it until it’s ready to show to the public, and this is the best they can do, I pause to wonder when exactly everyone involved just gave up. Surely the writers, director, and producers didn’t think they were hitting storytelling gold with this one. Right? Right? Oh, how I hope so.

Because no serious filmmaker could ever be satisfied with something as sloppy as “Underworld Evolution,” which is little more than a frantic collage of monster attacks and shoot-outs, with the occasional naked breast thrown in for good measure. Any pretense of having an actual plot (and, by extension, the advancement of such) is merely an excuse to shuffle the viewer from monster attack to shoot-out and back again, and it all comes with such an underexplained visual frenzy that it becomes impossible to become attached to the goings-on. By the time the movie finally screeches to a halt to explain everything (so much so that we’re tossed flashbacks of things that happened fifteen minutes ago, because this is the kind of movie that assumes that not only is the viewer clinically retarded, but he or she has been in the bathroom for the entire film up to that point), we’re halfway to dreamland, visions of better movies floating in our heads.

Here, for those interested, is the plot, as best I could piece things together through the haze of tedium and half-caring: Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a “death dealer,” an ass-kicking vampire assassin who took time off from the centuries-old war between vampires and werewolves (here known pretentiously as “lycans”) in order to uncover a conspiracy within the vampire clan. This, I should mention, was told entirely in flashback over the opening credits; any sequel that begins with five minutes of footage from the previous film (and accompanying narration) is not helpful to newcomers, but is, instead, unforgivably lazy.

Anyway. “Evolution” picks up immediately after “Underworld,” with Selene and half-vampire/half-werewolf Michael (Scott “Wake Me When We’re Filming” Speedman) on the run, hunted by Marcus (Tony Curran), who is, I believe, the bad guy from the “Wishmaster” movies. Or at least his makeup designer wanted him to look like him. Meanwhile, Captain Nemo (Derek Jacobi, of all people) has been watching both sides of this from his hi-tech superboat; he also finds a Little Orphan Annie Secret Decoder Ring hidden inside the corpse of Bill Nighy, who died in the last film but was nice enough to show up and film a few flashbacky scenes. The Little Orphan Annie Secret Decoder Ring has something to do with a medallion in the possession of Selene, which, if I remember correctly, unlocks the secret tunnel leading to One-Eyed Willie’s hidden treasure.

So Selene and Michael team up with Captain Nemo to take down the Wishmaster, which leads to the ruins of a Romanian temple (next door, I am assuming, from the one from “The Cave,” and a couple temples over from the fortress from “The Keep”), where a massive werewolf Muppet lies in wait.

I may have a few of these facts wrong.

But you get my point: “Underworld Evolution” is so unconcerned with little things like logic that if I were to take things seriously and try to outline the actual events of this story, my head could very well explode.

I suppose I wouldn’t mind so much if, say, the action was thrilling or the monster bits were actually scary. But director Len Wiseman (who also helmed the original) works in such a monotone here - loud and dark, loud and dark, 106 minutes of loud and dark - that the film refuses to be enjoyable on even the basest of levels. There is no dumb fun to be had when the action is presented so ineptly, both via an incoherent editing style and a pacing that mistakenly believes that the longer a scene runs, the better. Fight sequences here drag on well beyond their welcome, and with nothing new to bring to the table, the whole mess becomes incessantly annoying. (How many times can we see the same slo-mo shot of a gun-toting Beckinsale diving off of and/or into something?)

And dark. Oh, how this film is dark. Wiseman is under the silly notion that a lack of proper lighting instantly equals a serious, creepy mood, that “I can’t see jack squat” must automatically translate to “instant atmosphere.” The director has no grasp on such concepts as lighting for effect. As such, the viewer spends most of the film squinting into the blurry mess that is this movie’s visual design.

Then, finally, there is the matter of Derek Jacobi. The problem here is that Jacobi seems to exist in this film simply to illustrate why people like Derek Jacobi should never, ever show up in a movie like “Underworld Evolution.” Here is one of the great actors of our time, reduced to spitting dialogue not worthy of one of the lesser Baldwins. And he still manages to make it sound good, in the same sense that any actor of his caliber could make the punchlines from “Yes, Dear” sound good.

To put him, then, next to the likes of Beckinsale and Speedman is to reveal just how uninteresting those two can be. It also goes to show that nobody should ever be asked to spout dialogue while wearing fake fangs - makes even the best actor sound like he’s got a mouth full of marbles. (It should be noted that Jacobi does not wear any fake fangs. Wise move, friend.)

Oh, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out exactly what the deal was with Jacobi’s character, who is immortal but not a vampire or werewolf, who does things here that make even the largest plot gaps of other scenes seem teeny by comparison, and whose actions have results that go against everything that we’re told elsewhere in the film. But I wouldn’t dare ask the filmmakers to explain themselves. That might make their heads explode.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.