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Underworld
2003 - R - 121 Mins.
Director: Len Wiseman
Producer: Robert Bernacchi, Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg, Richard S. Wright
Written By: Danny McBride (II), Kevin Grevioux, Danny McBride
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Bill Nighy, Danny McBride, Michael Sheen
Review by: Greg Ursic
   
Doomed love is surely one of the few shared experiences of civilization - you would be hard pressed to find any culture that did not have a representative Romeo and Juliet. Regardless the reasons that these unions are frowned upon - religion, culture, or creed - the arguments will fall on deaf ears, for when has logic ever triumphed over love? But when your tribes are age old sworn enemies, and you belong to different species, you just know that things can't end well..

Selene (Kate Beckinsale)is a death dealer - an elite undead warrior in the centuries old war between the vampires and werewolves (aka Lycans). Committed to the cause, she finds herself distracted from her task when she falls for Michael (Scott Speedman), a human who, unbeknownst to him, has a date with destiny. Torn between her feelings and a secret that threatens to tear her world asunder, she must give the reins to fate. But just in case, never rule out high tech armaments...

Vampire movies are generally straightforward affairs: undead monster preys on humans (usually a virgin for good measure) and is subsequently staked by obsessive vampire hunter. Underworld flouts the genre form the outset: humans are at most peripheral characters in the film, neither mentioned nor preyed upon. Indeed it would more accurately be categorized as an action/thriller rather than a horror film. Conventions be damned!

Selene is decidedly darker than Kate Beckinsale's earlier roles, both literally and figuratively: her shorn hair is jet black, as is her skin tight leather outfit (which posed ongoing concerns for the actress - she nearly hyperventilated in the heat of the Czech summer, then verged on hypothermia in the winter). Selena is cold, calculating and pragmatic, the qualities one needs in a genocidal zealot, which makes her change of heart all the more shocking. Beckinsale creates a dramatic action heroine who struggles to deal with newfound emotions and is therefor largely unpredictable. Michael Sheen acquits himself well as Lucius the shaggy leader of the Lycans, an apparent ne'er do well whose motivations remain hidden until late in the film. Scott Speedman is appropriately scrumptious and tragic as the unwary hero of the piece. But what would a vampire/werewolf piece be without special effects?

Underworld takes advantage of all that Hollywood has to offer: one part Matrix, one part American Werewolf in London, with a dash of morphing thrown in for good measure. The vampires' transformation is minimal - they get a bit of overbite and ocular enhancement that distinguishes them from humans. The werewolves meanwhile get the ribcage-expanding-jaw-lengthening-claw-growing transformations that we have come to expect and the final product looks quite impressive (I sure wouldn't want to meet them in a dark alley...). Thankfully the special effects are an integral part of the story and are not mere window dressing, nor are they utilized for pure flash.

The action sequences are fluid and well choreographed and I'd be remiss if I failed to mention the wicked wire work - most impressive!
The sound editing is superb (you can actually feel each gunshot and feel like you're in the midst of the battles), the editing is tight, and the cinematography is appropriately dark without obscuring everything. Most importantly, the pacing is even and the film boasts a solid story with enough twists and turns to captivate the viewer.

Aside from a few dramatic moments that drew guffaws from the audience, Underworld is an engaging and entertaining piece of cinema that is perfect for a popcorn Tuesday brain rest. And in the event that its well received at the box office, they've also left it open for a sequel...
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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