Review by Dustin Putman
2 stars out of 4
A motion picture pitting vampires and werewolves against each other
is a novel idea, and one that has been taken surprisingly little advantage
of. Because such a premise is still an original one and could be taken
in a number of different exciting directions, debuting director Len
Wiseman and screenwriter Danny McBride had free reign of the topic
and folklore behind each mythand they botch it. Needlessly complicated
from a plot standpoint and sorely undernourished on the basis of its
characters, "Underworld" is a true case of style over substance. If
you pay little attention to the specifics of the convoluted premise
and simply wallow in the sumptuous, gothic-style cinematography by
Tony Pierce-Roberts, you may just find yourself enjoying the film
more than expected. It's only when you actually start paying attention
to the narrative that serious problems arise.
Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a vampiric "death dealer" who spends
her nights prowling the city streets in search of the werewolf race,
whom she blames for the rest of her family's untimely deaths. Her
one-track mission is complicated when she finds herself going against
the beliefs of the rest of the vampires to help an innocent medical
intern, Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), who is bitten by a werewolf.
As Michael walks the line between being human and growing into the
very beast she despises, Selene begins to fall in love with him.
So much of the plot of "Underworld" hinges on the love story that
develops between Selene and Michael that it is ludicrous how little
time is spent developing these two individuals. While Selene's background
is briefly discussed, no apparent reason is given for why she is falling
for Michael, and why she is willing to give everything up for him.
Meanwhile, Michael remains a tabula rasa from start to finish. Once
bitten, his feelings and emotions on unavoidably losing his profession
and the life he knows is skidded over in favor of action sequences
and involute plot developments. When neither lead character nor their
romance is intimately written or even that likable, and almost all
of the villains interchangeably look exactly alike, why should the
viewer care who wins and who loses the battle?
As the opinionated and tough Selene, Kate Beckinsale (2001's "Serendipity")
struggles to give her character extra shadings when nothing of the
sort is offered up in the script. She looks awfully cool shooting
guns and sexy wearing leather, but when these physical traits are
what stand out the most in a protagonist, you know you are in trouble.
Scott Speedman (2003's "Dark Blue") has even less to do as Michael,
basically playing Selene's scared little bitch throughout the running
time. As ancient vampire lord Viktor, who is resurrected by Selene
a century before his due date, Bill Nighy is a frighteningly imposing
standout. The rest of the male characters, both vampires and werewolves,
are scruffy and have long, dark hair; it is nearly impossible to tell
them apart and follow their own shady, senseless subplots.
With hard rock and heavy metal music blaring through the fight sequences,
plausible special effects filling the frames, and expert cinematography
and production design on constant display, "Underworld" is one of
the most visually stunning motion pictures of the year. Everything
else, including an anticlimactic ending that more or less reveals
everything that has come before as a cheap setup for a sequel, is
ready for the scriptwriter's junkyard.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman