*1/2 (out of 5)
September 19, 2003
Kate Beckinsale as SELENE
Scott Speedman as MICHALE CORVIN
Shane Brolly as KRAVEN
Michael Sheen as LUCIAN
Bill Nighy as VIKTOR
Erwin Leder as SINGE
Sophia Myles as ERIKA
Directed by: Len Wiseman
BY KEVIN CARR
I was pretty excited to see “Underworld.” “Hey, it’s Blade with a babe,” I thought. Since then, I’ve also heard it called a horror version of The Matrix and learned that it was originally pitched as Romeo and Juliet with vampires and werewolves. If ever there was an example of why the Hollywood pitch process (most notably mocked in “The Player”) is flawed, this is it.
Beckinsale plays Selene, a “Death Dealer” in the vampire army. Her job is to hunt down and kill all the Lycans (werewolves, for those who don’t recognize the term). However, she soon discovers that the Lycans are trying to get their paws on a human named Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman). Beckinsale goes against the leaders of the vampire coven to capture Corvin and find out his secret.
Now, I like a good vampire flick as much as the next guy. Heck, I like a good vampire flick probably more than the next guy. But I’m sick of the wishy-washy Anne Rice era vampires – the ones that just mope around all day in dark clothes, drinking blood from crystal goblets. Bring back Count Dracula. Please!
There’s too much pretension in this film. Lots of intense stares into the camera. Lots of uncomfortably hip clothes. Lots of pompous names for themselves, like Lycans and Death Dealers. This movie takes itself way too seriously. Even the scenes that appear as comic relief are presented so seriously that it is hard to believe the filmmakers thought it would be humorous.
Now, I’m a big fan of taking yourself seriously. The world doesn’t need any more “Toxic Avengers” which are jokes from frame one. However, the brooding, serious feel of “Underworld” is just too much. It’s as if director Len Wiseman thought he was making super cool high art instead of an action flick.
Even the web site (www.entertheunderworld.com) takes itself too seriously. Check out this online character description: “Selene is a strikingly beautiful, steely-eyed vampire warrior.” Steely-eyed? Give me a break! The folks from “Mystery-Science Theater 3000” could have a field day with this movie. It reminds me of a lot of independent comic books. Really cool artwork, but stories that just plain suck.
The biggest question I had is why do the vampires and werewolves even bother with the Underworld? What’s the grand appeal of living in the sewers? One of the most refreshing scenes in “Blade” was when Deacon Frost asks the vampire council why they hide from the humans instead of ruling them. If only there were that voice of reason here.
And what about daylight? Why don’t the Lycans attack during the day? The film takes place over the course of several days, but we never the sun. Wouldn’t the Lycans start going after the vampires at high noon, armed to the teeth out with wooden stakes and garlic?
“Underworld” tries so, so hard to be “The Matrix” with slow motion gun battles and long black leather coats. But there’s no heart behind the action. “The Matrix” was clearly a labor of love from two comic book fans. “Underworld” looks too much like a bad copy, like how “Daredevil” just didn’t cut it with the comic book action the way that “X-Men” did.
While the plot was vacuous, the characters were two-dimensional and the drama was nonexistent, I’m sure the drama behind the production was much more juicy. Beckinsale came into the project as a co-star with Michael Sheen, her long-time boyfriend and father of her child. Now she is engaged to director Len Wiseman. Is Ms. Beckinsale is trying to become the next Helen Bonham Carter?
Wiseman shoots Beckinsale like a guy trying to make his girlfriend look good (even though they weren’t “official” during filming). There’s an awful lot of cool poses happening. The problem is that Beckinsale just doesn’t have what it takes to be that leading lady, evidenced by her career not taking off after starring in “Pearl Harbor,” “Serendipity” or “Much Ado About Nothing.” It reminds me of Dina Meyer, who has had many shots at the big blockbuster with “Starship Troopers” and “Dragonheart,” but is now slumming it with films like “Bats” and “D-Tox.”
Wiseman comes from a visual background – first in the art department, then at the helm of music videos – and it shows. But I don’t mean this in a good way. Wiseman has the same disregard for story and overkill on visuals that we’ve seen in vacuous directors like McG and Dominic Sena. Too bad not everyone can be like David Fincher.
Everything about “Underworld” is overdone. The set design, which is cool for the first five minutes, ends up looking like a bad haunted house by the end of the film. The soundtrack is filled with unnecessary rumbles and crashes, apparently to add mood. The cinematography relies too much on this annoying blue-tinted monochromatic imagery. And there’s way too many actors posing and trying to look cool. It makes you wonder if they approach mundane tasks with the same intense attitude. Can you imagine Lucian at the drive thru at McDonald’s?: “I’d like Big Mac extra value meal, supersized with a Coke…” Cue intense stare…