Before seeing this film, you have to ask yourself: is it enough that I get to see Kate Beckinsale shooting guns and wearing a lace-up vinyl cat suit? No matter if the plot is contrived and the entire look of the film is cut and pasted from Blade and The Matrix, is watching Kate Beckinsale blow people away worth the ten dollars? Only If you can answer "yes" to both of these questions should you see Underworld.
Beckinsale's stunning presence is the only reason to see this movie as the whole vampire element is fairly inconsequential. Borrowing from The Matrix and Blade in equal amounts, Underworld is not so much a vampire film as it is a goth action flick.
Beckinsale plays the vampire Selene who works as a "death dealer" in the centuries-old war between the vampires and the Lychans (werewolves). Things have gotten complicated over the years. Since the demise of their leader, Lucian, the werewolves have been evolving both their weapons and their bodies. With the ability to change from man to beast at will, and carrying ultraviolet bullets, the werewolves are poised to launch an attack on the vampires the likes of which has never been seen before.
Meanwhile the vampires are almost totally unaware of what is brewing beneath the streets of their Prague-like city. Decadent and complacent, the aristocracy of the night ignore Selene's warnings that something is amiss. When Selene follows up on a hunch that a human named Michael may be an important clue, she is chastised and reprimanded by the leader, Kraven (who is also in love with her).
Underworld is exactly the kind of movie I would have gone bananas for as a 17-year-old goth kid (cheers to the screenwriters for naming the lead vampire after a great Mission UK song). As an adult though, this film was little more than two hours of eye-candy. The plot was over-developed and all the relationships felt forced
Not surprisingly, writer/ director Len Wiseman's prior work in film was limited to the art department. But to his credit, everything in Underworld is stylistically pitch-perfect. The mansion, the Victorian train, the capes, the boots, the double-doors, it was all exquisite. Even the revolvers that fired like machine guns were cool enough to usurp their complete lack of realism. As for the digital effects, they were pretty standard and recognizable from other films in the same genre. The werewolves look a little bit like the offspring of an Alien and The Predator, but the film is so dark you can't make them out half the time anyway.
The critical element that is absent from this film is sex appeal. Vampires are supposed to be alluring and irresistible, but the Underworld coven is populated with good-looking creatures that are one-dimensional and cold. Even the very talented Beckinsale is limited to the Laura Croft range of expressions (curiosity, scowling, shooting).
If it weren't for Hollywood's tendency to franchise any film that turns a profit, you'd probably never hear of Underworld again. This stylish film lacks a heartbeat and for no good reason. The filmmakers blatantly sampled from both The Matrix and Blade, why not steal from vampire classics such as The Hunger and Interview with the Vampire too? Alas, I must go put on a Catherine Wheel CD and lament.
-Megan A. Denny