On Underworld

I went last night to see Underworld.

I thought the film had a lot going for it, just off the premise. It’s the execution that needed some injection of life.

The film’s direction is competent, but unexciting. One review said that Len Wiseman was trying to make his future fiancee look good, and there are any number of shots that showcase Beckinsale’s physical assets. That makes the film nice to look at, but it doesn’t move the story along. And the color palette left a lot to be desired. Something other than a dull grey would have been nice.

The acting was pretty poor. Scott Speedman didn’t have much to do and showed no range. The vampire characters–Kraven and Viktor–were pretty much all scowls. Kate Beckinsale, who is capable of subtlety and nuance, spent pretty much the whole film scowling. The one creditable performance came from Michael Sheen, as Lucian the wolf, who showed some real range in the role and by the end of the film had redeemed his character from villain to hero. (To pull the camera back, I can’t imagine that Sheen had a particularly easy time on the set, what with his marriage collapsing as Beckinsale took up with the film’s director.)

The main problem here is Speedman. His character gets no development in the film, and he exists solely as a walking plot point. He might be the first actor in history to receive second-billing as the Plot MacGuffin. Which is sad, because I found the film’s premise to be rather intriguing.

I want to say a couple of things on the subject of Kate Beckinsale.

First, she looked absolutely fantastic.

Second, she couldn’t get that damned scowl off her face. If she were really into being the Death Dealer the way she said she was, I imagine she’d have looked positively gleeful every time she emptied the clip of her gun.

I wondered where Beckinsale was keeping her replacement ammo clips in that get-up, but since she looked fantastic in the outfit I didn’t probe the question too deeply.

I blame Anne Rice. She’s ruined vampires for good, I tell you.

There were vampires in the story, but we never saw them act as vampires. Well, except for a few moments close to the end, but for the rest of the film they might’ve been the British nobility for all the sociability they showed.

I suppose if the film does well there could be a sequel. It certainly ends with that potential. But there needs to be something more substantial to a second film to make it worth the time.

If you want dumb fun with the supernatural, Underworld isn’t a terribly bad way of spending two hours. But I could have spent those two hours playing Simpsons’ Hit & Run on my XBox, too, and had more fun with Homer running around Springfield jacking cars, beating up old ladies, and kicking children.

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