Ealasaid/ September 11, 2003/ Movie Reviews and Features, Writing

Directed by: Len Wiseman
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Shane Brolly, Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy
Rated: R for strong violence/gore and some language.
Parental Notes: Although “Underworld” is neither as violent nor as gory as it could be, it is still likely too intense for preteens. Teenagers who like vampire and werewolf stories will probably love it.

It’s been said that there’s nothing new under the sun, but “Underworld” proves there’s very little new under the moon, either. A stylish, grim, and decadently violent action/horror flick, “Underworld” blends together elements of stories that have been told a hundred times to generate a whole which is slightly more than the sum of its unequal parts. Is this the vampire genre’s “Citizen Kane?” No, but it’s two hours of glorious fun for fans of comic-book violence, stylish action, and things that go bump in the night.
Selene (Kate Beckensale) is one of a select group of vampires, the Death Dealers. Her job is to hunt down and exterminate the Lycans (as in “lycanthropy”), and she and her cohorts have done so well that there are very few werewolves left. Things seem to be going perfectly for the vampires, but then Selene gets curious about Michael (Scott Speedman), a human the werewolves seem to be pursuing, and her investigations into his situation uncover a number of truths about her own.
“Underworld” starts out as a sort of undead “Romeo and Juliet” but morphs into an examination of the world and species its writers created. This is a good thing, because the leading couple have about as much chemistry as a wet sock. Beckinsale and Spedmen are suitably attractive, and fill out their characters well, but the writing and plotline just don’t allow enough time to develop their romance.
That’s okay, though, because there’s plenty of violence, vampire-werewolf politics, and eye candy to distract from the ostensible major plot thread. The vampires are decadent, beautiful creatures, lounging around a huge mansion in various combinations of leather, latex, brocade, and silk and drinking blood from crystal wineglasses.
The werewolves, on the other claw, are gritty, dirty, and desperate. They hang out in the sewers, where their leader (Michael Sheen) and his pet mad scientist are trying to find a way to make a vampire/werewolf hybrid and end the cross-species war once and for all. When not stripped down and bulked-out into their wolfman shapes, these werewolves look like glamorized homeless folks, all grit and dirty sweatshirts under brown leather jackets.
There are spiffy action sequences, although not quite as many as one would expect. Unfortunately, both the vampires and the werewolves appear to have gone to the B-movie bad guy school of shooting, and in spite of their superior strength and reflexes, neither species has particularly good aim. Neither species has a very consistent set of abilities either, and although they seem to dislike humans they sure use a lot of our gadgets. Both camps use guns and cars a lot, all decked out with sweet stereos and hi-tech ammunition.
Still, “Underworld” has a neat take on the relationship between vampires and werewolves, and is fun to watch on that basis. This is writer/director Len Wiseman’s first time at the helm of a major motion picture, and he has done much better than some other first-time directors.
Vampire and/or werewolf buffs will doubtless enjoy “Underworld,” which doesn’t quite live up to the great undead/monster movies of the past but is still fun to watch. It’s also not overly gory, with the exception of a coup-de-grace straight out of “Vampire Hunter D.” Those in search of pure horror or pure action may be disappointed, but as a horror/action blend, “Underworld” satisfies.