Underworld’s trailer makes it looks wonderfully slick and dark in the tradition of The Matrix and Blade; but after seeing it, you’ll realize that everything that seemed dazzling was simply stolen and then abused – from its Dark Shadows-meets-Matrix costumes to its Blade weaponry to its Nine Inch Nails video backdrops. Nothing about Underworld is original; it’s a hackneyed, patched-together goth-kid fantasy that I’m convinced was written a 15-year-old boy who wears black eyeliner (think the Saturday Night Live skit “Goth Talk”).
Straight out of Marilyn Manson’s wet dreams comes the fantastical storyline: For centuries, vampires have battled werewolves, known here as Lycans. It’s not really clear why they’ve been battling, even after the film sort of reveals the reason; so we’ll leave it there. The Vampires are depicted as aristocratic sophisticates who prefer fine crystal and Porsches, whereas the Lycans are filthy street thugs who morph into ferocious dog-like monsters.
Kate Beckinsale plays the beautiful and fierce vampire warrior Selene who, in hunting the Lycans, discovers that a few of them are tracking a human named Michael (Scott Speedman). In her effort to unravel what role Michael plays in the Lycans’ war plans, she finds out that Michael is a werewolf. Then, somehow, they fall in love, and they begin to seek out an end to the ancient feud together.
Sound to you like Romeo and Juliet with monsters? You’d be right, if the movie weren’t so short on character development. Instead of chemistry, you’re wondering why they’re even kissing in the first place. Sadly, most of the actors in the film appear to be trying their darnedest just to act. Shane Brolly, who plays the interim head of vampires named Kraven, seems to think wincing, smirking, and gritting teeth constitutes intensity. It’s outright laughable.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to distinguish between what’s bad acting and what’s just extremely bad writing. The dialogue is as a mish mash of Interview with a Vampire and Commando, and the bits of real world chatter you get between action sequences are as lame as what you’d hear in a porn film. Adding to my theory that a goth high-schooler penned this atrocity, the writers throw in gimmicks that they probably thought were really cool, like ultraviolet bullets that glow blue. Ultraviolet bullets? How does that work? How do you get sunlight or ultraviolet radiation inside a glass bullet? It’s just pure nonsense.
So, you’re thinking, it’s at least stylish, right? Yes, to a degree; but the art direction is so clich≥d that it can’t really boost this bust. Even the fight scenes fall flat; instead of the graceful, awe-inspiring martial arts choreography seen in all the films Underworld imitates, we’re treated to the dull, aimless rattle of random machine-gun fire. And, the only special effects worth noting are the werewolves, which do look pretty scary as they crawl along the walls.
Regardless of how badly this film is sure to perform with critics, droves of black-clad youngsters alongside the masses of Matrix lovers will seek this film out, drawn by the promise of rubber outfits, supernatural characters, and all those guns. And they’ll get all of that; but they’ll walk out baffled and annoyed by its story and performances. If you’re feeling tempted, just wait for the rental, and stay home with one of many films Underworld seeks to mimic instead.
Kneel before Zod.
© 2004 filmcritic.com