[Screen It]

(2003) (Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman) (R)

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Horror: A werewolf-hunting vampire uncovers a conspiracy and unleashes even more violence as she tries to figure out what her mortal enemies want with a human.
Selene (KATE BECKINSALE) is a vampire known as a death dealer. Her mission is to find Lycans, better known as werewolves, and kill them, since the two groups of monsters have been battling for centuries.

While proficient at her job, she's concerned that the Lycans can change from human to werewolf form at will, and that a group of them has some sort of peculiar interest in Michael Corvin (SCOTT SPEEDMAN), a human medical intern who's unaware of how his world is about to be turned upside down.

She reports this to her vampire leader, Kraven (SHANE BROLLY), who thinks she takes the warrior business too seriously. The two have never gotten along, especially since her mentor, the revered vampire leader Viktor (BILL NIGHY), went in a pre-ordained, centuries-long hibernation of sorts. And no one seems to believe her theory that the great Lycan leader, Lucian (MICHAEL SHEEN), is still alive.

Her reputation with her kind is further strained due to her interest in Michael who manages to save her after an attack by Lucian. After breaking all of the rules and resurrecting Viktor far too soon, Selene then sets out - with the aid of vampire technical advisor Kahn (ROBBIE GEE) - to figure out what the Lycans are up to and why Kraven doesn't want to heed her warnings.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Pretty much since the beginning of time, people have battled those who are different from them in looks, nationality, religion and basic beliefs and principles, all over power, land and/or just due to spite. The results are never permanent or good for that matter, especially when the two groups who are battling are in the minority.

That's particularly true - in the movie world - of vampires and werewolves since they're relatively small in number and almost always hunted by monster-fearing humans. Yet, as imagined by screenwriter Danny McBride (making his feature debut) and director Len Wiseman (ditto), those long-standing staples of the horror genre have been battling for eons, now with high-tech weaponry.

Those are two of the first problems with "Underworld," a stylish but overwrought and ultimately boring Goth style horror flick. While fans of said material might get into all of that which dominates the offerings, it's ultimately a bunch of empty, hokey and meaningless posturing and cinematic nonsense.

It's also an amalgamation of material lifted from other films - especially visually - that doesn't do anything unique or creative enough with the borrowed goods to make any of it worthwhile. Most notable is the emulation of the visual style from "The Matrix" - albeit thankfully without the "bullet time" spin-around effects - complete with black trench coats, lots of guns and plenty of acrobatic slow-mo. While some of it does look cool, we've seen it all before and it ultimately adds nothing of the offering.

Unfortunately, the underlying plot supporting all of that isn't anything particularly interesting or engaging. It seems that werewolves - called Lycans here - are the blue collar types, but have managed to figure out how to will themselves into making that wolfish change.

The vamps, on the other hand, are the snobby elite who have trained various members of their own to hunt down, ferret out and kill those Lycans. One of them - played by the ravishing Kate Beckinsale ("Serendipity," "Pearl Harbor") who looks great in her skintight outfit and is about the only classy thing the film has to offer - uncovers conspiracy and somewhat falls for a human - Scott Speedman ("Dark Blue," "Duets") - while doing her job.

That's supposed to generate intrigue and presumably horror/terror as she digs deeper into the conspiracy and puts herself in additional harm's way. Instead, what it creates is stylistic posturing over substance and hokey melodrama rather than something compelling or engaging.

Everything is so overwrought - especially some of the acting - that the picture takes on something of a silly and surreal aura. Yet, the effort never transforms into full-bore camp, thus robbing the viewer of enjoying the film on just that level.

At least Beckinsale makes it more tolerable to watch. While we may never know what enticed her to sign on to such a mess that couldn't possibly have looked any better in script form, she brings more intelligence and depth to her character than it deserves.

Speedman is okay but instantly forgettable as the infected and thus conflicted human, Michael Sheen ("Timeline," "The Four Feathers") is intense yet bland as the Lycan leader and Shane Brolly ("Impostor," various straight to video releases) and Bill Nighy ("Love Actually," "Blow Dry") compete to see who can overact the most playing the vampire leaders.

The end result is that we don't remotely care what happens from either an emotional or purely visceral standpoint. Instead, we simply watch the film unravel, I mean unfold, as we wait for someone to come along with the silver bullets and wooden stakes to end this overwrought and melodramatic affliction. "Underworld" rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed September 15, 2003 / Posted September 19, 2003

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