[Screen It]

(2009) (Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy) (R)

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Horror: A young werewolf rallies his kind against their oppressors, a cruel vampire king and his followers who've persecuted them for decades.
Several decades after their dual creation, the aristocratic vampires, led by Viktor (BILL NIGHY), rule over their pure animal adversaries, the werewolves. Yet, through some scientific experimentation, Viktor has created a Lycan hybrid werewolf, Lucian (MICHAEL SHEEN), and has enslaved him, along with various humans, in his heavily armed castle. Yet, the pure werewolves are stepping up their attacks on the vampires, worrying council member Coloman (DAVID ASHTON), despite vampire sentries known as "death dealers" killing as many of the beasts as possible.

Viktor isn't concerned, despite his young adult daughter Sonja (RHONA MITRA), who's also on the vampire council, recklessly doing her own riding and killing of the beasts. And unbeknownst to him, Sonja is having a secret but torrid affair with Lucian, who's usually in human form and enslaved as one of the castle's blacksmiths. Yet, Tannis (STEVEN MACKINTOSH), a conniving vampire official, is aware of their tryst, and plans to use that knowledge to his advantage.

Even so, and due to bad treatment by Viktor and various vampire guards toward him and humans such as the hulking Raze (KEVIN GREVIOUX), Lucian becomes increasingly fed up by that. All of which sets the stage for a rebellion and the rise of the Lycans against their vampire oppressors.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Our new reviewing policy for films that aren't shown in advance to critics is that we'll only provide a paragraph or two about the film's artistic merits or, more accurately, lack thereof. After all, life is too short to spend any more effort than that on a movie that even the releasing studio knows isn't any good (which is why they hid it from reviewers before its release).

First he took on Richard Nixon and now TV reporter David Frost goes head to head with the king of all vampires. What's that? Oh yes, of course, it's not Frost but the actor who played him, Michael Sheen, and it's not "Frost/Nixon 2" but rather "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans."

For those wondering why the classically trained actor, who also starred as Tony Blair in the terrific "The Queen," is now slumming it as a werewolf, if you're familiar with 2003's "Underworld" and/or its 2006 sequel, "Underworld: Evolution," you'd already know that the performer also appeared in those pics along with the always quirky Bill Nighy and the lovely Kate Beckinsale (who was once romantically involved with Sheen before they split and she took up with and then married the first and second films' director).

Speaking of soap operas, this prequel to the first film is essentially more of the same (vampires and werewolves battling it out, class differences and all), slathered with the forbidden love of "Romeo and Juliet" with some father/daughter estranged relationship issues. Unfortunately, it's not as campy as it probably could and should have been, and it does have a bit more depth and emotional resonance (thanks to some difficult decisions, as well as Sheen and Nighy's performances).

That doesn't mean it's good, however, as first-time director Patrick Tatopoulos (who did the creature effects for the first two films) over-shoots and over-edits the action scenes, which is what fans of the series are probably breathlessly waiting (particularly since the previous main attraction -- the comely and shapely but ready to kick butt Beckinsale in that skintight leather outfit -- is MIA save for a quick throwaway shot). In the end, it doesn't have much bite and any previous hairiness has mostly turned hoary. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed January 23, 2009 / Posted January 23, 2009

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