Tragi-gothic beauty Selene, a vampire warrior, finds herself at odds with the rest of her clan when she encounters a mysterious young man who may hold the secret to the war that has raged between vampires and werewolves for a thousand years.
Stubborn, tough-cookie vampire warrior Selene (Kate Beckinsale) eschews the indulgent lifestyle of her vampire clan led by the arrogant, jealous Kraven (Shane Brolly), who took command after long-in-the-tooth vampire elder Viktor (Bill Nighy) entered a 100-year death-sleep. Instead, as a top-ranked member of the Death Dealers, she'd rather be out hunting Lycans, the werewolf thugs that run the London streets at night with whom vampires have been at war for the last thousand years. One night after a particularly dangerous subway battle Selene encounters a human who, her intuition says, holds some secret to the ongoing war. Sure enough, Selene learns her instincts were right: For reasons that aren't clear, the Lycans are after this young doctor, Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), who hasn't a clue that vampires and werewolves exist until their leader Lucian (Michael Sheen) hunts him down and takes a chomp out of his shoulder. Selene makes it her mission to protect Corvin despite Kraven's violent objections and, in hopes of gaining an ally, awakens her onetime mentor Viktor early from his century-long slumber. He's none too happy about it (would you be?), especially when he hears Selene's cockamamie conspiracy theories involving Kraven, Lucian and a werewolf takeover that would wipe the vamps off the planet. When the truth is brought to light, so to speak, it results in a raging battle to the death.
Pale, tough and humorless, Beckinsale's gun-blazing Selene gives Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft a run for her money in all categories including those involving skintight leather jumpsuits and grim non-expression. As was clear with Tomb Raider, however, an gorgeous heroine in jackboots does not a great movie make, no matter how gallant Beckinsale's attempts to buckle it all together. One thing to her advantage is that she's a native Brit, making her one of the few characters in this overlong grimfest who doesn't drop their accent at some point in two hours. Speedman, on the other hand, has no excuses--as the American-accented Michael Corvin, all he had to worry about were his lines, but apparently even that proved too difficult. Let this be a lesson to movie directors everywhere: never, ever put anyone from Felicity on the big screen. All this pales, literally, in comparison with the downright dreadful Brolly. Spitting and snarling every word, he uses Kraven's bloodletting canines to gnaw through the scenery so completely he does Bela Lugosi proud. Perhaps most pathetic of all is poor Bill Nighy, forced to carry on through one scene so laughable you know he wishes Selene would have let sleeping dog Viktor lie.
Director Len Wiseman (who, by the way, is engaged to his leading lady) co-created this coagulated concoction and apparently sank his teeth into more than he could chew. Fabulous--genuinely fabulous--cinematography, sets and costume design are almost, but not quite, enough to distract from Underworld's discombobulated plot that offers explanation at all the wrong times and glosses over obvious plot holes even Ed Wood wouldn't miss. To wit: what to make of the oft-repeated scenes of a bug-eyed scientist drawing blood from unwitting victims? His experiments end up being the basis of the entire story, but this isn't clarified until nearly the very end after said scientist is captured and, Gollum-like, hisses an explanation that covers complicated family histories, genetic testing and a centuries-old conflict in a five-minute fit of expository claptrap. Speaking of chemistry, dour hardass Selene and wimpy Corvin have zip in that department--he spends most of his screen time tied up and waiting for her rescue--and their fleshless love connection is about as sterile as the blue-black, postmodern glass-and-metal world they inhabit. There's also something dubious about immortals who use guns, syringes and cell phones. By the end, friends have become enemies, it's unclear who to root for, and somehow the whole mishmash has turned into a diatribe about ethnic equality and interracial relationships.
Ambitious and with a look to die for, Underworld unfortunately had great potential to be what The Matrix Reloaded should have been but turns into so much humorless gothic hokum. Hopefully the sequel, underway now, will make the most of what's great (the look) and leave behind what's not (everything else).