It’s not enough for the overblown Underworld to be one of the worst movies of 2003. And it’s not satisfied with being one of the worst movies of all time either.
What Underworld represents is an absolute low for movies, boasting not one iota of originality in any of its 121 torturously long minutes. To call its script witless, action unimpressive, story uninvolving or pacing plodding would just be getting started. It is as horrible a movie as one would expect knowing it’s the brain (damaged) child of two stuntmen and a prop handler — doing nothing but ripping off far-superior films they’ve watched or worked on.
The four-year cribbing of The Matrix’s bullet-time flies and flips will certainly continue, but never so egregiously as director Len Wiseman and his cronies have done here. They expect us to drool at the cool with absolutely no other goal in mind than to provide visual mimicry of heroes like Neo, Blade and Wolverine with a cheaper budget and, worse yet, even cheaper imagination.
Basically, Wiseman and company think we’re idiots, and their junk has grossed $22 million already. Do the movies that you love — and it threatens to ruin — a favor and give them no more.
Of course, an opening weekend that recoups a film’s entire production budget is virtually guaranteed a sequel, meaning the inevitable task of enduring Underworld 2 likely awaits some time in 2005. Get ready not for more Tolkien mythology, but token mythology.
It’s all about vampires and werewolves who have been fighting for centuries. Oh, sorry, that’s “vampyres” and “lycans,” because Underworld is just too darn Eastern-European and gothic to use the preferred spelling or common words.
It’s also too rote to call main vampiric character Selene an assassin. No, no. She’s a “death dealer,” one whose narration tells us that while the weapons have evolved, the battle has waned because there are just so few werewolves left. Well, those weapons might not have evolved that much. Wesley Snipes was wasting vampires with similar bullets last year in Blade II.
After an hour of Wiseman filming each gun battle as though it were the first to ever appear on a movie screen, he gets around to what qualifies as the driving plot. Even though he is a descendant of the first immortal creature to ever live, Michael (Scott Speedman) is a human, hunted by the werewolves because within him the blood of werewolves and vampires can be combined to make a strong hybrid.
By what Underworld shows us of vampires and werewolves, Michael’s hybrid would be a guy in desperate need of electrolysis that shops the Hot Topic clearance rack. Instead, when he does change, he’s basically like X-Man Wolverine.
But early, we know Michael is human because when he falls or jumps from high places, he gets a worse concussion than Kurt Warner. Any creature in the movie that does that lands flawlessly every time. By the movie’s tack, beware of any gymnast you know. He might have big, pointy fangs.
Motivated not by trifling things like passion or attraction but by their cinematic duty to do so, Selene and Michael fall in love. This not only complicates things, it provides a circuitous and overly expositional loop back to why the war started in the first place.
The dialogue is uniformly boilerplate and completely humorless, the film’s concept of comic relief as foreign as the city in which it takes place. In a better movie, such ineptitude would be good for unintentional laughs. Here, it contributes to the sadness.
It’s peppered with mythic buzzwords like “covenant” and “awakening,” more fake rain than The Perfect Storm and tragedy piled on with shag thickness. And when two completely insignificant secondary characters have a prolonged duke-out, we wonder why … until we realize they’re played by the same two stuntmen who concocted the story.
In June, Beckinsale and Wiseman were engaged. Who knows? Maybe this thing was just a $22-million excuse to get Wiseman close enough to her to win her hand. Let’s hope their heart is in the marriage because it’s sure not in this trash.