October 07, 2003

Underwhelming and Uninspiring

Oh No!
It's Yet Another Installment of ...

Today's Film: Underworld

"UNDERWORLD" IS NOT A FILM FOR THINKING MOVIE-GOERS, we are sad to report. Based upon the interesting if somewhat odd premise that two groups of supernatural creatures are secretly warring with each other, we do believe that "Underworld" could have made for a decent or perhaps even good movie-going experience. Unfortunately, we knew not five minutes into the movie that it would be neither decent nor good, and we knew ten minutes into it that we had found ourselves condemned to two hours of anguish and pain.

For "Underworld" is underwhelming and uninspiring in every respect. It is a badly-directed, badly-scripted, badly-written, and badly-rationalized movie that even falls short in the categories in which such bad films are usually good. For while one had hoped the scenery and style and hot girls wearing slinky costumes might have made up for it, "Underworld" failed to live up to its potential in even that regard. All in all, it made for a rather disappointing film experience.

Of course, our streak of bad luck continued as we went into the film. For the lax projectionist started the film late, and the theatre management decided it would load up reams of previews on top of that. And lo, we did watch in bemusement as advertisements for an upcoming stupid horror film and an upcoming stupid crime drama were splashed across the silver screen, to be followed by an ad for yet another upcoming stupid horror film. Interspersed between the first two trailers and the latter were trailers for three films, all of which consisted entirely of recycled or remade content. And, as we were reeling from the nausea and revulsion which these trailers had induced in us, we were thrown into the main film not thirty seconds later.

That says a lot about "Underworld." For one area in which it did excel was throwing the viewer into situations which made absolutely no sense at the time, and only became half-comprehensible about 90 minutes into the picture. Gad.

Anyway, here's the plot. Unbeknownst to God-fearing and mortal humans, clans of vampires and werewolves have been fighting a clandestine war against each other for a good thousand years. As time has marched ever on, the two groups have gone from being hunted down by an angry mediaeval citizenry to successfully adapting to modern, 21st-century life. By this, we mean that the vampires became securities litigators whilst the werewolves became a street gang, albeit a well-spoken street gang. OK, so that's not entirely accurate -- the vampires have actually gone into industry, while the werewolves have gone into the exciting but non-permanent field of anti-government agitation. At least they seem like rebels. We can't tell, because it's not fully explained what it is they do.

Anyway, whilst hunting down the werewolves, Selene (Kate Beckinsale) realizes that the beasties are actually searching for a lowly human. Why this is, no one knows, but the idea of learning more about it is immediately nixed by her incompetent and weaselly superior, Kraven (Shane Brolly). (They named him Kraven. Christ. Idiots!)

As it turns out, the lowly human (Scott Speedman) -- with the eminently European name of Michael Corvin -- is central to the werewolves creating a new line of vampire/werewolf crossbreeds. These hybrid monstrosities would, after passing their Section 7(a) exams, then bring the war to a swift conclusion. At least that's the idea of Lucian (Michael Sheen), the werewolves' leader. As one would expect, Selene and Corvin fall in love, and there is much in the way of hand-wringing about that ("Say! Guess who's coming to dinner?") Then, after a bit of dithering about, this leads to much gunplay and hand-to-hand combat. Denouement follows.

The backdrop for all this silliness is a city in cinema's Twilight Zone. We know this is the case because it has all sorts of pretty mediaeval architecture and gargoyles on the parapet and all that, and because some of the signs look as if they are in German. The license plates on the cars are also done up in that indecipherable and foreign way. On the other hand, everyone speaks English, and speak in a variety of English or American accents, and all the accoutrements -- software, police cars, and so forth -- are all identified in English. One would think the film producers would have been smart enough to realize that a police car ought to say "POLIZEI" instead of "POLICE" on it, or at least given their readers credit for figuring it out themselves.

We cannot begin to explain the full silliness inherent in this film. Gad. First off, the vampires use silver-tinged bullets to kill off the werewolves, as werewolves really don't care for the stuff. Unfortunately, as any student of mythology can tell you, neither do the vampires. The werewolves, for their part, somehow have infused sunlight into their own projectiles. This causes vampires much distress but unfortunately does not seem to jive with physics.

But boy. That's not all. There is a scene in which Kate Beckinsale manages to take two measly machine pistols to shoot her way through a floor. There is a scene in which one of the werewolves somehow manages to outrun a Jaguar XJR sedan. There is a scene in which the high-tech vampiric fortress -- in which there may be 200 to 300 vampires at any one time, despite local fire codes -- has its electrical power cut off with the flip of one switch. Thus proving that vampires are decadent and stupid creatures, as any rational folks would have thrown in a triple-redundancy system.

We also did not think much of the vaunted photography and scenery and costuming that supposedly kept the film from sinking under the weight of its own idiocy. Everyone has already made the comparisons to "The Matrix" movies, and everyone has already concurred with the argument that these failed to jump the high bar. For instance, the vampiric fortress -- for all its Old World charm -- was in sore need of redecorating, having last been redone in 1870 or so. And let's face it -- leather and corsets and all that can be nice, but all that failed to hold my interest for more than three seconds.

So if you must see "Underworld," we would advise waiting until you see it under the "New Releases" section of your local video store, or perhaps under a sign that reads "Bargain Bin." To make any more of an effort for this underachieving cinematic wreck wouldn't be fair. After all, why should you expend so much effort when the folks behind it apparently didn't?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at October 7, 2003 12:08 AM | TrackBack