by Marc Kandel
The one thing that did go through my mind while seeing the teasers prior to Underworld's release was, "The Wachowski Brothers gonna sue somebody." Flash-forward to a few months later where curiosity got the best of me and for $3.95, I felt a bit better about sacrificing my time for this flop. I got exactly what I deserved- a Matrix-esque sliming of two of my favorite monsters, totally pissing away anything interesting about the concept.Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh right out of the box. You know what? If you don't have access to the 30 or 40 some-odd decent vampire or werewolf movies out there, and you’ve already seen the 80-100 awful vampire/werewolf movies, and you have no other options on a Saturday afternoon, than you could certainly do worse than spend one hour and 58 minutes perusing this film, which though intellectually incomprehensible does provide enough jump cuts, flashing lights, and hot Beckinsale-ass in pleather to appeal to the MTV ADD assbrained culturists that compromise most of the audience appreciating this piece of... work.
"Vampires by Prada, Werewolves by Gucci, Actors by Home Depot Lumber Aisle"
Underworld’s plot is as follows: Kate Beckinsale plays the vampire Selene, a remorseless werewolf hunter dedicated to the complete extinction of the species on behalf of her undead coven. During one of her routine hunts, she discovers that not only are the werewolves (called Lycans in the film) more organized, plentiful, and better outfitted for battle than ever before, they are stalking a specific, normal human being for some mysterious reason other than dinner. All signs point to no good, but her coven leader, the aptly (and quite obviously) named Kraven, does not want her to pursue the issue, preferring to mince about in preparation for a big vampire meeting. Selene, rebel that she is, investigates anyway, and discovers two disturbing facts: ***HERE THERE BE SPOILERS***
1. The Lycans are being led by a werewolf thought long dead, supposedly slain by Kraven centuries ago. This uber-werewolf, named Lucian, is the flashpoint for the ancient feud, and now he is embroiled in an unknown scheme involving:
2. The man the werewolves are hunting, James Corvin, played by Scott Speedman, who is of a unique bloodline whereby he can survive not only being bitten by a werewolf, but by a vampire as well (evidently everyone else just up and dies), creating a new half breed superior to either species (that looks pretty much like Nightcrawler), able to end the centuries-long feud by virtue of merging the two races together, which history tells us has done wonders to promote tolerance and end hatred. Plus, it worked on a “Ghostbusters” cartoon episode some years ago.
Who will reach Corvin first? Who will win the fight? Will Selene ever find out the truth behind not only the great feud itself, but her own origins? Can Kate Beckinsale do more than stick her lower lip out and transmit her lines in bromidic monotone? With an ass like hers, will anyone really give a shit if she does? I leave you, the viewer, to find the answers to these questions. But for God’s sake, just rent it- don’t get bamboozled by all the flashy lights and hot chicks and go out and buy this swill. Your money is better spent on the classics- you can even get a better werewolf/vampire fight from “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.” I suppose that sums up my feelings on the movie adequately, but a bitchslap is a bitchslap, so let me give you the full lowdown on my thoughts:
No surprises here. Another terrific idea marred by lazy execution. Bunches of sneering, frilly vampire models vie against sweaty, scowling, grime-streaked lycanthrope models (with the exception of one Dr. Mengele-type Lycan, because in accordance to movie rule number eleventeen all brainy scientists have to look like ass) dressed as dirty bums, all waiting for the opportunity to pout for the camera some more. The film adds almost nothing new to the vampire/werewolf mythos, which is one of the fun, interesting things good movies in this genre address. Indeed, aside from “silver and sunlight bad,” the story doesn’t even bother to define any traditional behavior. There is not one single true vampiric or lycanthropic predation the entire film. There are hints and discussions of such activities, all in dialogue, but for the most part humans are portrayed as the rock in the middle of the road one has to go around to continue on one’s way. Do any of these guys eat people or what? It is almost suggested that the vampires are only supposed to suck cows dry at one point, leading me to believe these creatures have some sort of pact with humanity, though we don’t see either species really mingling with regular people, other than shoving a few normals aside to get a clear shot.
We do learn that the vampire elders share leadership of the various covens by alternate hibernation schedules, which, while interesting, does not reveal the vampires’ place in the world at large. At least in films like "Lost Boys"," The Howling", and other coven/pack films there were plans, goals, and social interaction (even if they were just to feed on humanity as covertly as possible- hey, still a goal). We don’t really get to know the human element either, save for Michael (Speedman), who is given little time to reflect on being pulled out of his life, a life which we only see through a picture or two in his apartment, before he is bitten by the Lucian and spends the rest of the time either being pulled around by Beckinsale, unconscious, or strapped down in a lab writhing around.
Monsters work best when we see humanity affected by them or within them. Here, everyone is too preoccupied with rushing about to the next confused action sequence or obvious plot contrivance. The most human characters are the werewolves (the vampires are too busy looking good), but again, we don’t really get inside the pack’s mindset or day-to-day ritual. They are simply the downtrodden victims of vampire oppression, and that’s about as much as we get- the moral vagaries of either group preying on innocent people is pretty much left out so we can simply root for one side or the other without having to worry about messy things like moral ambiguity- a reoccurring pet peeve of mine.
Action-wise, there are quick-cut, scattered fights between the two groups consisting of more gunplay than the tooth and claw I was hoping for, but the ultraviolet and silver nitrate bullets make for interesting visuals, if you don't mind the "Blade" derived ideology of monster-tech.
Come to think of it, there isn't much in this film that isn't derivative. A Romeo/Juliet family feud (forgivable, as this is at least stealing from the best), effete, mannered vampire covens reminiscent of ideas we have seen explored TO DEATH in the aforementioned "Blade," Anne Rice films, and countless others, werewolves whose actions seem more "Aliens" than pack animals -check out the shot-for-shot moments blatantly stolen from the former referenced film where the werewolves actually charge along the walls and ceilings en masse, and the "drone" werewolves retreat slowly back into the dark corners after taking their cues from their alpha male. You think somebody could come up with an original thought just once. Oh, yes, and lets not leave out the most damning evidence- Yes, that's right, painted on pleather and black trenchcoats with lots of cool looking leg and shoulder holsters offering little to no protection from teeth, much less ultraviolet bullets, but allowing you to look really cool while bending physical laws of gravity, posing dramatically against skylines,doing karatemovesohjesussomeoneisdoing
Sorry. On to our leading lady...
Kate Beckinsale. Christ, she is one beautiful woman. I look at her and my heart hurts… Right up until the first awful, droning lines come tumbling from her ripened lips. Loved her in "Haunted," a really decent ghost story featuring a young, buxom, energetic beauty who was not above getting good and nekkid to tell a story (not that there is any reason for her to do so in Underworld, but I just want her to know it is MOST appreciated). Since then, she has evidently been selected as an “IT” girl, had to binge and purge her way to a more acceptable Hollywood gauntness and tool around in the anti-entertainment that was “Pearl Harbor” and run-of-the-mill romantic comedies. My heart goes out. This was to be her big leading lady breakout, and I don't think she gave a shit. Perhaps performing in relentless audience-pleaser pabulum has sandpapered her soul to the point of zombification. Oh well, maybe she can dredge up some excitement for “Van Helsing.”
Selene has no real personality to speak of- all weathered action-hero attitude, no passion. This might not be Kate’s fault- the narrative is so rushed and broken, that when we do learn some insight into the why’s and wherefore’s of Selene in a quick, badly written monologue, it just doesn’t resonate. The little bits of character development are jammed in between fights and sputtering plot, and it just ends up leaving the viewer as cold inside as the vampires. Yes, there are reasons why Selene is so intense and closed-off, but since all we have seen her do from the beginning is just mechanically ape “The Matrix’s” Trinity sans vulnerability and depth, 40 minutes into the film when I finally find out a bit about what makes her tick, I really don’t care because I haven’t been given any emotional connection up to that point. I certainly don’t buy her attraction to Michael, which seemingly erupts out of nowhere in a passionate kiss, and that entire subplot just strikes me as hastily written “love interest” drivel.
The rest of the cast pretty much follows in Beckinsale’s wake, neither inspiring nor really standing out. Maaaybe Bill Nighy, who plays Viktor, the awakened vamp elder with some relish, deserves some credit, but after my girlfriend reminded me he was the brilliant burnt-out rocker from “Love Actually,” the performance started to echo that character in its inherent cheesiness- I think that’s my own fault though. Michael Sheen (Lucian) is also competent with what little he has to work with. Actually, there is one actor that really earns himself a mention- Shane Brolly (Kraven). I can scarcely believe they let this guy out of the made-for-tv-movie cellar long enough to drip flop sweat all over this movie. What line deliveries Brolly does not end up swallowing are cringe inducing to the core of one’s spine in their awfulness, and you know what, I can’t blame everything on the writers- this guy should not be allowed to utter the spoken word ever again. This dude is actually worse than the bad movie he appears in. Strangely enough, I take no pleasure getting this vicious about an actor- there are plenty of mitigating factors to a performance which I really try to be understanding about, but honestly, you watch this thing and tell me if I am exaggerating. Go ahead. Watch this fucker fail.
Underworld is the premise that shouldn't, seemingly couldn't, in a sane world wouldn't, miss; Vampires vs. Werewolves in a fight to the finish. Now that's a winning concept, right? They've got the fantastic idea, the budget to do it, and while there's no real star power at work, there doesn't need to be. All we need now is the showdown. Great, count me there. Only that's not what we really get, is it? I guess we will have to wait for the sequel threatened at the end of the film. God help us.Perhaps you will get some entertainment out of this turkey. I'm gonna have to urge you to get some real bang for your buck and grab a copy of “Near Dark” or “American Werewolf in London.” Hell, even Blade is preferable, and a helluva lot more original.
link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8166&reviewer=358
originally posted: 03/10/04 17:04:09