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Underworld

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 01/19/06 17:01:45

"Imagine 'Goth Talk: The Movie.' Only worse."
1 stars (Sucks)

The first thing I ask while watching “Underworld” is: what in the world is Kate Beckinsale, chick flick star of “Serendipity,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” and “Pearl Harbor,” doing shooting off guns in a loud, preposterous goth actioner about vampires and werewolves? The second question I ask is: why would anyone want to see a movie written by two stuntmen and an art director, none of whom have written a script before?

I can guess that the answer to the first question has something to do with a movie star’s desire to let loose in some dumbass shoot-’em-up, and so despite being horribly miscast, Beckinsale does her best to bring some dignity to a remarkably stupid movie, and she winds up being the best thing about the film. But as to that second question, I can only assume that the producers heard the phrase “vampires vs. werewolves, but with guns and Matrix-y trenchcoats” and rushed to buy the idea, making the mistake of not reading the script first.

After all, it is a pretty cool idea. However sloppily the script presents it, the notion of a thousand-year war between two monster clans evolving to now include liquid silver bullets and ultraviolet “sunlight” ammo is fairly sweet. But there’s always that “sloppily” part.

Let me try to get through the plot as best I can. Beckinsale plays Selene, an ancient vampire who works as a “death dealer,” hunting down werewolves - I’m sorry, “lycans,” as the movie pretentiously demands they be called - one by one and offing them, all in part of that aforementioned thousand-year war. As the story begins, she witnesses a shoot-out between the two camps in a subway station (the film takes place in a generic, rainy European city, which I’ll call Gothberg); more importantly, she notes how them lycans have been hunting a human, the extremely dopey Michael (the extremely dopey Scott Speedman).

She later manages to track down Michael and rescue him, but not before he’s bitten by Lucian (Michael Sheen), the werewolf leader. Her helping this human - especially one that’s about to turn into a werewolf - doesn’t sit well with Kraven (the remarkably awful Shane Brolly), vamp leader who looks a bit like that guy from Creed and who has the misfortune of getting most of the script’s worst dialogue. (Kraven actually says “Blast!” as an interjection. Wow.) Oh, and unlike the rest of the vamps, Kraven doesn’t have to bother with a crappy European accent, because, I suppose, he’s the leader.

Only he’s not the leader. You see, the vampires keep their leaders in some sort of hibernation, locked away in the floors of a vault to decompose or sleep or whatever. The idea is that every few hundred years, a new leader will be resurrected, while the other two sleep. How this helps with their immortality is beyond me. Anyway, instead of awakening the leader that’s supposed to be awakened, Selene awakens the big cheese, the head honcho, the Vampire King himself, some wrinkly dude named Viktor (Bill Nighy), in the hopes of telling him how Kraven may be in cahoots with Lucian.

And what of the werewolves? Well, the screenplay doesn’t really know how to balance the retooled vampire legend, the Selene-Michael relationship, the action sequences, and the retooled werewolf legend, so the werewolves take the backseat for most of the film, appearing only to bump the plot ahead just a tad. There’s something about the werewolves doing genetic research, and something about that research’s link to Michael, but for the most part, the werewolves are little more than unformed monster characters.

(Side note: We learn that silver bullets work because all werewolves are allergic to silver. But which forms of silver, and in what amounts? How do they handle silver coins? What about silverware? “Silverado?” Veteran actor Ron Silver?)

As tossaway characters, however, the werewolves get it easy. The vamps, you see, get stuck in a world of total artsy-fartsiness, as if the vampire society was created by and for people who love “The Crow,” Anne Rice novels, and old Ministry albums. “Underworld” is afloat in a sea of silly accents, candelabrums, and too much eyeliner. It’s a movie for people who think vampires are really, really, really cool, only because they get to live in castles and stay up late and listen to Nine Inch Nails and dye their hair black and have European accents and brood.

Then there are the endless “Matrix” moments, lots of slo-mo trenchcoat blowing and bullet dodging. In other words, this movie’s tailor-made for that sweaty goth dude down the hall who thinks “Equilibrium” was hot stuff. I wouldn’t recommend spending two hours with that dude, and I wouldn’t recommend spending two hours with this movie, either.

Oh, but what of that screenplay, crafted by those stuntmen and that art director? Well, stuntman/actor Danny McBride gets sole screenplay credit, working from a story by himself, stuntman Kevin Grevioux, and Len Wiseman, the art director from “Stargate” who’s making his directorial debut here. The result is a script that reads like fan fiction written by a group of old buddies who happen to be hardcore “Forever Knight” fans. This is terrible, terrible stuff, from the plotting to the characters to the dialogue, which is downright laughable. (One character actually says, in full sincerity, “What’s the ruckus?”)

I do credit Wiseman for having a good eye for visuals; his previous job sure tought him how to film a nice looking set. And “Underworld” has a whole bunch of great-looking sets - laboratories, castles, and sewer systems that create a strong goth vision. I know this because I had a lot of time to study the backgrounds. The movie was too stupid to care about anything else.

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