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ISSUE 117 VOL 2 PUBLISHED 9/26/2003

Critic's Corner

By Molly Bayrd
Variety Editor

Friday, September 26, 2003

With darkly elemental cinematography reminiscent of “The Matrix,” “The Crow,” and last summer’s “28 Days Later,” the recently-released “Underworld” depicts a blue, tenebrous scene, heavy with bloodshed and century-ancient feuds. Werewolves (here, called “Lycans”) are at odds with London’s night-crawling vampire clans, all for reasons that remain unknown to viewers until the last stretch of the action-packed film. What viewers do know is that vampiress Selene (Kate Beckinsale), a Lycan-hunting “death dealer,” is out to uncover the truth behind the age-old war.

With clever gadgetry and an impressive arsenal of powerful firearms, the vampires and the Lycans face off in a multitude of highly-impressive battle scenes that will leave viewers spellbound. The two races go head to head using “daylight-filled” bullets and rounds of liquid silver, each of which destroy their intended targets instantly. Though not as technical or showy as “The Matrix,” the shootouts are thoroughly entertaining without being too artificial, and mark the high points of the film.

When Selene discovers that the Lycans are hunting down an American man named Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman) for reasons unknown to her, she begins to uncover a nefarious Lycan plot – one that includes the creation of a hybrid vampire/werewolf super-race that would annihilate the entire vampire population. Worst of all, Selene suspects that one of her superiors, a snarling and sour vampire named Kraven (Shane Brolly), is involved with the Lycans and their powerful leader, Lucian (Michael Sheen).

In a desperate attempt to save her race from decimation, Selene awakens an all-knowing vampire elder named Viktor (Bill Nighy), who has been entombed within the vampires’ swanky mansion for more than a century. Viktor agrees to hear Selene’s plea for help – until he learns that he has been raised from his grave nearly one hundred years ahead of schedule. Selene must locate Michael on her own before the Lycans can use him to bring their destructive plot full-circle.

What sets “Underworld” apart from its cinematic counterparts – “Blade,” for example – is the unique way in which the storyline unfolds. Though overly murky at times, the plot is saturated with twists and intrigue that keep it sharp and give it a refreshing angle. Only select amounts of information are released at a time, which keeps viewers in anticipation of whose side they’ll choose to be on once the film draws to a close. Alliances shift, surprise deaths occur, and bullets fly. “Underworld” moves at a pace so intense that most viewers will have no trouble becoming involved in the film.

Beckinsale does a fine job of tearing around in her streamlined leather corsets and black knee-high boots, yet Brolly and Speedman are far less convincing in their roles. Though Speedman is an attractive addition to the cast, he has become too accustomed to playing the bumbling, do-good role that he originated on the WB’s “Felicity.” Brolly has meager talent and relies too much on his icy stares to carry his performance.

If nothing else, “Underworld” is a thoroughly entertaining piece of cinema that deserves more credit than one might give it at first glance. The action sequences are breathtaking – never overdone – and though the dialogue runs stale at times, the film itself never falls flat. One thing’s for sure – no one will leave the movie without secretly wishing that they had the same supernatural capabilities as the Lycans and vampires.

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