Click here 2 and a half stars

Kate Beckinsale Vampires
and werewolves,
oh my!
Oh, who cares?
Kate Beckinsale as Juliet the vampire, Scott Speedman as her Romeo
fail to get heart-blood pumping in this collection of clichés


Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla

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"Underworld" sounds like a great concept. A secret war between vampires and werewelves, going on for a thousand years without humans knowing a thing about it. In the midst of this, a vampire falls in love with a human who becomes a werewolf but is really something else ... oh dear, my brain just exploded. Let me start again.

Selena (Kate Beckinsale) is a Deathdealer, one of an elite warrior caste that hunts down werewolves. She is quite good at it. Things are looking up for the vampires. They are winning their war with the Lycans (werewolves), their high-tech weapons more than overcoming the brute strength and power of the lycanthropes. On top of it, the time of the Awakening is near, when one of the ancient original Vampires awakens from its slumber to assume the mantle of leadership for a few centuries (there are three original vampires still around; they require centuries of sleep in order to survive).

Michael Sheen (Speedman, Beckinsale in larger image)Selena notes that the Lycans have taken interest in a human named Michael Corvin ("Felicity's" Scott Speedman), an intern at a large urban hospital. She decides to investigate. She tries to keep him alive, both from the Lycans who seem to want him, as well as from her own race, The other vampires become downright irate after Corvin is bitten by Lucian, the Lycan leader (Michael Sheen). And as Selena digs deeper, she is thwarted by Craven (Shane Brolly), the Vampire leader, and in desperation, awakens her mentor Viktor (Bill Nighy) for guidance.

Before you can say "Wouldn't it be a total Hollywood cliché if she fell in love with Michael Corvin?" she falls in love with Michael Corvin. Then she begins to find out the truth about the war, and it ain't pretty. In fact, the vampires are keeping a lot of deep, dark secrets.

The problem with "Underworld" is that there is an incredibly rich backstory that screams for further exploration. But director Len Wiseman is forced to sacrifice much of the dialogue and backstory for action and effects, and so it can be kind of hard to keep track.

The vampires, who are supposed to be arrogant and aristrocratic, come off as indolent and lackadaisical. It's written almost like Anne Rice on lithium. It's fairly fashionable to portray vampires these days as members of a vanishing race, going unquietly into oblivion, but, sheesh. Although technologically advanced, there's no real hint as to where the technology is coming from, as few of the vampires in the movies seem to do little more than sit around in crumbling, faded mansions sipping from wineglasses, wearing trendy Eurotrash fashions and generally behaving as if they are guests at an interminably long party at which the guest of honor hasn't yet arrived. And they're supposed to be winning?

As decadent as are the vampires, the Lycans do little more to impress. Although they have more vitality than the vamps, they still come off little better than the disposable thugs that populated the "Batman" series. When they hit someone, you almost expect cartoon graphics reading "POW!" "BAM!" and "KA-THUNK!"

In any "Romeo and Juliet" type of romance, which "Underworld" ultimately is, there has to be an element of tragedy, and there just isn't one here. Sure, there's bloodshed, mayhem, death and destruction, but as the movie lurches to a climax, the tragedy seems to be less and less involved with the romantic leads. That strips the love story of its poignancy and just about kills any shot at romanticism.

It's a shame, since Speedman and Beckinsale work well together and have some nice chemistry. And while Beckinsale's costume designer seems determined to break some sort of cinematic record for the most variations on black leather in a single movie, Beckinsale still manages to look vivacious and attractive, even alluring, while kicking some major patootie.

The visuals are what work about "Underworld," which makes sense, since director Wiseman comes from an art-direction background. The cityscapes are crumbling, corrupt, dimly lit and depressing, a cross between the landscape of "Batman" and "The Crow." The effects are pretty nifty too, particularly the sequences in which the Lycans morph from human to werewolf. The action sequences are a highlight, beautifully choreographed.

Ultimately, though, this is a good concept gone bad. Think of "Underworld" as a grand mansion that looks terrific from the outside, but once you open the door turns out to be empty and cold.

Tough call. I'd have to give a slight edge to the tube, as the effects sequences tend to be more personal than epic in scale. Still, it looks awfully nice on the big screen.


See cast, credit and other details about "Underworld" at Internet Movie Data Base.