Gen X review UnderworldThey travel mainly at night, running in packs like dogs. Sharing a common lineage, they have waged a secret war dating back as far as anyone can remember, but it was only a matter of time before the sci-fi geeks and the Goth weirdos gave birth to some sort of monster.

Enter: Underworld, one of the most vapid, silly films of the year.

Taking its cue from the Matrix, Blade and the Laura Croft series, Underworld combines the nervous energy of science fiction with the plodding operatic sentiment of the Gothic subculture. More a fashion show than a film, Underworld is fetish worship of the lowest order, catering to folks who abuse themselves to the Cure en route to real-life vampire role-playing games where they adopt fake Brit accents and stupid-ass names like Sebastian.

(If you’re this person stop reading this review and back away slowly.)

Obsessively talky, Underworld paradoxically has extraordinarily little to say. Preferring style to substance, the film relies on its dark, brooding cinematography to denote its emotional and psychological depth while simultaneously boring its audience with long, convoluted flashbacks that tell much more than they evoke despite their use of loaded images and symbols. When this magic combination doesn’t work the filmmakers put the thing on high speed, blend it for an hour, sprinkle it with useless details and wooden characters, and serve it as an unsmiling kitsch quiche.

The story follows the budding romance between Michael (Scott Speedman), a shallow, one-dimensional human, and Selene (Kate Beckinsale), a quarter-dimensional vampire Barbie doll built to full size. Their attempts at intimacy are thwarted by an untimely war between vampires and Lycans (werewolves), which interrupts their little bondage games and threatens to pull them into some half-baked plot concerning ancient retribution and cursed love…

The overall impression I get from the film is that its plot is merely an excuse for its neurotic fascination with affectation. The storyline feels exterior to the film, as though it were just laid over a series of special effects and gymnastic fighting scenes. Consequently it reads like a music video directed by a pretentious art snob with a penchant for leather.

With so much attention paid to the film’s style, you might be asking yourself what it looks like?
The movie’s uninspiring visual effects stem from the fact that Underworld doesn’t try to do anything new. Its major mood-setting device is constant rain and darkness, which sort of runs dry after 20 minutes. Most of the remaining effects are the clinging-to-the-wall or hissing variety, which feels stale and dated. The werewolf transformation scenes are laughably bad and the vamps are distinguishable only because they all have sissy names and wear blouses.

When the movie exhausts its limited special effects pallet, the filmmakers toss more characters into the mess. The pace quickens just as the plot begins to flounder under its own weight, resulting in a meltdown that would be pretty funny if the thing didn’t take itself so seriously. You just can’t set an opera to a Mountain Dew commercial.

In the end Underworld suffers from being too derivative and style-conscious, sort of like a Fox remake of Dark Shadows.


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