Underworld (2003) / Horror-Action
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, gore, and language
Running Time: 121 min.
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Shane Brolly, Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, Erwin Leder, Sophia Myles
Director: Len Wiseman
Screenplay: Danny McBride
The film is called Underworld, and that's where it belongs, as anything this perpetually derivative doesn't deserve to see the light of day. It's made for one type of audience: the ones who like everything to look dark and cool, and if there isn't a thought-provoking story to go with it, who cares? It's just so COOL, dammit! Isn't it worth it to see skin-tight leather, shaggy hair, trenchcoats, and people wearing their shades at night??
Underworld imagines a world where humans, vampires, and werewolves (called Lycans here) co-exist, with the latter two in a war against each other in the underbelly of the cities they inhabit. Beckinsale (Laurel Canyon, Serendipity) plays Selene, one of the least corrupt of the vampire clan, and also one of the best at taking down the vicious lycanthrope hordes. However, she finds that no one can be trusted when a conspiracy is discovered between the heads of the vampire and werewolf clans, a conspiracy that involves tampering with a human named Michael, who coincidentally has saved Selene's life. This causes Selene to take more drastic measures, ones which seem to upset the balance of things and puts her in the middle of several warring factions who don't take kindly to things not going their way.
Underworld is such a tedious watch, not only because it is inherently superficial in everything it does, but it also is one of the more repetitive films to cover this oft-explored territory. The characters are bland, the dialogue is trite, the story unimpressive, and the action oversaturated. It's about thirty minutes of dark, comic-book style story padded with ninety minutes of recycled imagery and extended, violent action sequences. A film with this little plotting and dialogue definitely doesn't need 121 minutes to achieve its meager goals to entertain, especially when the overriding story isn't even resolved by the end (Can you say, "Blatant attempt at a sequel?")
With so little concentration on good storytelling elements, it's obvious that the creators of Underworld are seeking only one thing: a cool world full of cool people doing cool things in cool ways while driving cool cars and wearing cool clothes, shooting cool guns with cool bullets at other cool-looking creatures. I'm all for cool, but this cool is so un-cool because it's passť, having been done to death by The Matrix and its myriad of clones, as well as The Crow, Buffy and Blade, to name but a few that have followed the same path.
Ultra-chic expressionism and over-the-top aesthetics is all Underworld offers, so this is strictly targeting a niche market of vampire fetishists, relentless gore and gunfight lovers, or those solely into completely visceral cinematics. Not being one of that crowd, I found this to be a nightmare to sit through (and not in the intended way), full of mind-numbing action and horrendously bad acting.
Travel to your local comic book store, find the 25-cent discount bins and pull out an issue at random. I can't guarantee you'll like it, but I'll wager that almost anything you pull out will contain just as much thought and entertainment at a fraction of the cost in money and your time as this half-baked dreck.
©2003 Vince Leo