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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Underworld: Evolution

Posted By on Wed, Jan 25, 2006 at 12:00 AM

The first Underworld played like a big-budget episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer — but without the snarky dialogue or Scooby Doo sensibility. Aside from hot-as-hell Kate Beckinsale clad in skintight leather, it was a thoroughly derivative and sporadically entertaining vampire film that borrowed its production design from The Matrix. Chronicling a long-standing feud between fashion-conscious vampires and an ancient race of grungy werewolves known as Lycans, it drew audiences to the tune of $100 million.

Underworld: Evolution is pretty much the same thing ... only worse. While the earlier film had a reasonably developed narrative, this needlessly convoluted and relentlessly nonsensical sequel vacillates between endless exposition and dull action sequences.

The film opens with an effective flashback: It's 1202 AD and two brothers — Marcus, the very first vampire and William, the original werewolf — wage war in a snow-covered hamlet. It seems that the earliest werewolves were monstrously violent and unable to return to human form. Marcus (Tony Curran), hoping to capture and pacify his murderous twin, is betrayed by Viktor (Bill Nighy) and imprisoned in the family mansion, while William is forever confined in a steel sarcophagus.

But then we jump forward to the present where we experience yet another flashback; this time to the original film where we get a thumbnail sketch of sexy Selene's (Beckinsale) adventures with Michael (Scott Speedman) — a budding vampire/Lycan hybrid — and her killing of the duplicitous Viktor. Unfortunately, Viktor's spilt blood revives Marcus and the ancient vampire sets out to find and free his long-lost brother.

From here on out we get lots of backstory and very little actual plot. Flashback after flashback bridges the gaps between frenzied shootouts and copious bloodletting. Director Len Wiseman's style of filmmaking can be summed up in two words: loud and dark. He emulates the failings of many contemporary action directors: It's all style and little coherence.

Worse still, Wiseman takes his film far too seriously. Underworld's gothic pretensions are as wooden as they are humorless. In comparison, Guillermo del Toro, when directing the far superior Blade II (an obvious influence), had the good sense to inject a little levity into the proceedings.

The cast is adequate but hardly impressive. Beckinsale once again distracts in her flattering bodysuit and electric blue contacts. The script doesn't require her to do much more than keep a straight face while delivering awful dialogue and looking good while kicking ass. She delivers on both accounts. Speedman turns in a workmanlike performance in an irrelevant role and Derek Jacobi lends an air of respectability as an equally superfluous character. Though it's clear this is a film for nabbing paychecks, not Oscars, it seems monumentally unjust that an actor as fine as Jacobi is reduced to appearing in crap like this.

If you liked the first Underworld film, chances are you'll find this unnecessary sequel only mildly disappointing. For the rest of us, there's very little evolution to be found, just more of the same ... but not even as good.

Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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