The cast of Underworld should’ve gotten together for a “How to Speak with Big Fake Teeth in Your Mouth” tea party before cameras started rolling on their little monster mash. The movie is full of actors who fail in the navigation of lips over fake periodontal nightmares, and it’s a bit distracting. Vampires snarl, spit and project unfortunate lisps in order to deliver what amounts to horrible dialogue in a film that’s all visual and no brains.
In this monster movie’s boring universe, vampires and werewolves have been waging war for many centuries. While the two breeds of monster are mortal enemies, they have strikingly similar fashion sense. Apparently, the modern day vampire and werewolf prefer to do their outerwear shopping at Goth Guy, opting for black mostly leather outfits accompanied by Trent Reznor haircuts. Werewolves appear a bit sloppy and doglike, while the vampires boast the better grooming habits of cats. The film goes further with the cat-dog dynamic, including unintentionally hilarious moments where vampires hiss like felines in the presence of menacing man mutts.
A gloomy Kate Beckinsale plays Selene, a “death dealer” vampire who spies werewolves from high building perches, her gawking techniques not unlike the methods preferred by Wim Wenders’s solemn angels in Wings of Desire. When she happens upon two werewolves tracking hooded human Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), she gets all catlike curious. She falls in love with the human, who is later bitten by a werewolf and is due to get all wolf freaky. Other factors involving a vampire conspiracy lead to convoluted troubles for her and some of her Nosferatu buddies.
A final confrontation comes into play when Selene “awakens” Viktor, a slumbering vampire leader who is justifiably cranky because he was scheduled to sleep for another 100 years and his coffin doesn’t have a snooze button. Viktor, as played by Bill Nighy, has the very unfortunate skin aura of a long dead guy, and a true hatred for werewolves because one tried to date his daughter in a past century.
Made on a relatively low budget, Underworld looks pretty good, even if it does steal most of its atmospherics from the Matrix movies. Some of the creature effects, especially the CGI, fail miserably, but there are a few werewolf transformations that give An American Werewolf in London a run for its money in the best werewolf transformation department.
What Underworld doesn’t feature is a performance worth watching. Yes, Beckinsale is a fine actress, and she looks mighty good in her tight black body suit, but she’s a bit too laid back as an action hero. Granted, vampires don’t have too many reasons for enthusiastic dispositions, but Selene is an unnecessary drag. As interim vampire leader Kraven, Shane Brolly could’ve gone for a little more variety in his line deliveries. Every sentence he speaks has the pompous, irritated tone of an actor who’s pretending room service just delivered the merlot instead of the cabernet sauvignon.
Bad taste is embodied in the character of an evil scientist performing experiments on werewolves. Of course, the scientist is very German and Nazi-like, giving the film that warm and fuzzy Holocaust feeling. While few necks get bitten, I lost count of how many syringe needles plunged into exposed arms. There are more needles in this movie than there were rolling around in Stone Temple Pilots’ singer Scott Weiland’s glove compartment prior to his last drug bust.
So, a good premise and an absolutely fabulous outfit are wasted in this exercise in gothic overload. If you seek a good vampire film with a modern twist, rent Near Dark. If you need a gothic fix, bust out your Cure discs and read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. If you crave being bored to the point of delirium, Underworld should do the trick.