BY JUSTIN WEINER
for the Daily
Published September 21, 2003
"Underworld" is an intense, violent tale of an ancient war between vampires and lycans (werewolves). The thundering techno/rock soundtrack and acrobatic fight scenes allow for comparisons to "The Matrix," but "Underworld" is a distinct story of the blurry line between good and evil.
An intriguing opening scene introduces Selene (Kate Beckinsale, "Pearl Harbor") perched high above a city street, delivering a brief monologue on the history of the vampire/lycan war. Selene is a "death dealer," a vampire that stalks and kills lycans. After nearly a 1,000 years of war, the vampire death dealers have nearly destroyed their prey.
Beckinsale's portrayal of Selene is tremendous, giving the character a resourceful, gritty quality. Her dark seriousness and cold, calm voice match the mood and lighting of the film. She is also a refreshingly powerful heroine. Selene's fighting ability and quick thinking are often necessary to save the troubled, human med student Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman, "Felicity").
Though humans are generally not involved in the war, Corvin has unwittingly been drawn in for mysterious reasons. Corvin is a genetic anomaly, capable of becoming both a vampire and a werewolf. His existence will have important ramifications for the war, and his role is one plot twist that makes the movie unique.
Convincing in his portrayal of Corvin, Speedman's screen time is oddly limited for a central character. When he is on screen, Corvin is usually being chased, beaten or tortured. This constant harassment leaves little time for character development, and consequently one learns very little about the male hero of "Underworld."
While the ongoing beastial engagement contains numerous twists and surprises beyond the traditional war story, adding a unique touch, writer/director Len Wiseman adds a few too many wrinkles, often making the plot confusing and difficult to follow.
The distinctive story and acting of Beckinsale make "Underworld" an enjoyable two hours. If nothing else, the visually stunning action sequences and dark cinematography will entertain moviegoers and make the film worth the price of admission.
Rating: 3 stars