Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly, Bill Nighy, Erwin Leder, Sophia Myles, Robbie Gee, Wentworth Miller, Kevin Grevioux, Zita Görög, Dennis J. Kozeluh, Scott McElroy, Todd Schneider, Sándor Bolla
Written by: Kevin Grevioux, Danny McBride, Len Wiseman
Directed by: Len Wiseman
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence/gore and some language
Running Time: 121
Date: 09/08/2003

Underworld (2003)

1 Star (out of 4)

'Under' Wears Out Welcome

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Underworld has one heck of a poster. That poster alone conjures up images of an amazing film full of Moulin Rouge-type cityscapes, Matrix-like kung-fu, Dracula-like gothic chills, and maybe a few Nosferatu-type scares.

Unfortunately, the actual film clocks in as the worst vampire film since Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. And this from someone who enjoyed Queen of the Damned, From Dusk Till Dawn, Innocent Blood, Blade II and many other highly questionable vampire flicks.

The filmmakers -- first-time director Len Wiseman and writer Danny McBride -- come up with one idea, or more like a gimmick: vampires and werewolves both exist and have been at war with each other for centuries.

After that, they steal every single moment from other movies, comic books and video games -- and all the bad ones at that. It includes the obligatory speed-metal score and the shimmery, jackhammer flashbacks.

Beautiful latex-clad Selene (Kate Beckinsale) discovers while hunting that the werewolves are trailing a human (Scott Speedman). She captures him to find out what's going on. Unfortunately, no one seems to know; it has something to do with a centuries-old feud about whether or not werewolves and vampires should mate, or mix blood, or something.

Both the werewolf coven and the vampire coven come complete with traitors, Lucian (Michael Sheen) and Kraven (Shane Brolly), respectively. Both apparently graduated from the same class at one-dimensional bad guy's school. (They both love to sneer through their dialogue.)

Finally, Underworld asks us to believe that Selene would betray her people for the love of the human, even though they have absolutely no chemistry together and have barely even spoken.

It goes without saying that Wiseman lacks the skill to give us any really inspired fight scenes; they're all of the usual cheapo jumpy-choppy variety. And the CGI werewolves are so bad they make us yearn for the days of latex and air-bladders in An American Werewolf in London and The Howling.

The dialogue is so stale -- it digs out the old chestnut "We had a deal!" -- that I was hoping the film would teeter over to the so-bad-it's-funny scale, or at least the guilty-pleasure scale. But it's just so relentlessly, insultingly bad that it quickly dashed my hopes.

Moreover, Underworld had the greatest special effect of all -- Kate Beckinsale looking amazing in that black suit -- and Wiseman fails to make good use of her. He photographs her either in close-up or in shadow or behind some obstacle. I'm sure Ms. Beckinsale will be pleased to know that wriggling into that suit day after day really paid off.

Vampire fans would be better off picking up the poster, staying home, and imagining their own flick.

DVD Details: In anticipation of the third film, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009), Sony has released a two-disc, double-feature set of the first two films. Both discs are the same as previously issued. The sequel has a commentary track, and the original is the "extended" version (134 minutes), with lots of extras: trailers, two documentaries and seven featurettes, storyboards, commentary by Len Wiseman, Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman, plus DVD-rom bonuses.

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