starring Kate Beckinsale
2 1/2 stars

review by Stephen Notley

Underworld, on a basic level, delivers what the trailers promise. That is, the trailers suggest some kind of war between vampires and werewolves duking it Matrix-style except tinted blue instead of green. You want to see vampires blasting away at werewolves? You'll see it. Wanna see werewolves doggin' it down dark hallways while getting blasted away at? No shortage. Wanna see Kate Beckinsale shoot holes in floors and jump around all crazy-like in a skintight leather vampire outfit? Then you'd better see Underworld, because it's pretty unlikely you'll see her do it anywhere else.

On the other hand, if you want to actually care about or even follow what's going on, then maybe Underworld isn't your best bet.

This is a premise-heavy movie. I'm not talking just about the basic idea, vampires vs. werewolves. No, Underworld is loaded with backstory, centuries-old history, plots-within-plots and little quasi-scientific details. It's a very fully detailed world, which normally is good. In practice, though, Underworld feels like a film adaptation of book 3 in a crappy 6-volume Anne Rice wannabe horror series. Characters spend most of their time explaining some little twist of the backstory and hardly any time showing us why we should care or what's at stake.

This isn't helped by costume and casting choices that draw almost no distinction between vampires and werewolves. We've got a bunch of Euro pretty boys on one side, a bunch of Euro pretty boys with beards on the other, so what we end up with are lots of black-clad Matrixy trenchcoat types blasting away at each other with guns and some of them turn into werewolves.

So: the plotline is wandering and overcomplicated and the characters tend to range from stiff and uncaring all the way up to totally annoying every time they appear. It's not a whole lot of fun, really. That said, there are a few things that hold your attention.

Beckinsale does what she can in a role that's made up of cool poses and no character. She cuts a fine image, somersaulting Trinity-style through the air over werewolves or dropping forty feet to spring out of her landing crouch with the same light-footed goosestep each time. It's just a shame that the romantic plotline that's supposed to be driving her every action barely exists.

And while many of the characters are MIA or irritating, there's a performance or two in there. Bill Nighy of I Capture the Castle is pretty cool as Elder Vampire Victor, emerging from his crypt festooned with blood-tubes, gradually getting stronger and cooler as the movie progresses. English actor Michael Sheen has kind of an interesting creepy-Jesus stare as would-be werewolf messiah Lucian.

And, with all the over piling of back story and details, there has to be some good stuff in there. Beckinsale has probably the slickest, most ladylike machine-gun pistols I've seen in a movie. There are weird vampire-and-werewolf-killin' weapons, special bullets with little glowing chambers of ultraviolet liquid for the vampires, silver nitrate for the werewolves. And when it comes down to it, the final fight kicks it up and keeps it there with some slick vampire-on-werewolf/vampire hybrid action.

If you just want to see shooting and don't care if you care, you might like Underworld. If you're a gothy vampire enthusiast, you might be able to get into some of the made-up history and vampire society stuff. And, if you're a regular person, I'm not sure, but I'm guessing you'd probably be a bit bored until the last 20 minutes or so. It's your call.