review for Underworld on AllMovie

Underworld (2003)
by Jeremy Wheeler review

Pitting werewolves and vampires against each other is something that every movie monster-lover can appreciate any day of the week. In Len Wiseman's stylish, but flawed directorial debut Underworld, this concept is explored and fleshed out with epic intentions, but not so epic results. First off, anyone expecting monumental battle scenes between the two creatures better stop where they are, because there will only be a full plate of disappointment here. Moments of bloody hand-to-hand monster brawling are fleeting, with all of the action relegated to quickly cut, lame John Woo-style gunfights. It's a problem that lies at the heart of the film -- instead of embracing the horror elements of these two iconic creatures, the filmmakers opt to sweep it under the rug and dress the modestly-budgeted 23-million dollar flick up as an action-fest whose explosive elements and style are as derivative as they come. Unfortunately, it seems that most of the money went straight into the gothic production design, while other sections were greatly hindered by the budget restraints -- namely, the creature effects. Created and crafted by Patrick Tatopoulos (the same hack behind 1998's Godzilla redesign), the werewolves (aka: lycans) are a lame bore, with huge muscular necks and little hyena heads with no fur to be seen, the design is awkward and unapologetically ugly, save for the few imaginative transformation scenes. Surprisingly, the film shines in the one place no one would expect -- the script. With the endless amounts of vampire lore floating around, Underworld's inventive approach is refreshing and far more interesting than the bullet-ridden shoot-'em-up scenes -- though the style of the flashbacks leaves much to be desired. In contrast, the acting is strictly a mixed bag, with lithe star Kate Beckinsale and clan heads Lucian (Michael Sheen) and Viktor (Bill Nighy) bringing class and freshness to the piece, while others like Shane Brolly as Kraven stink up the screen with their semi-Euro trash accents and laughable diction. There is a well-developed base here that will serve the sequel Underworld: Evolution well -- but as it is, this one will forever fail to live up to the concept it built for itself. Too bad too, because the world needs more werewolf vs. vampire films!