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. "Underworld"

She doesn't exactly fly. But she can fall to the ground from six stories and land like a cat. She's a vampire. She's Kate Beckinsale, a heretofore semi-hidden talent getting her chance at a conspicuous role in a super-charged blockbuster with lots of gore, regenerative powers and a dark, ancient history. This is "Underworld."

Mention vampires and werewolves and the image is exploitative horror for committed fans of the genre. Bring them together in the same movie and you have an image of Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, or a film for phantasmagoria-fest. But this is considerably more than that in terms of character depth and sophistication.

It supposes that these are two races and that they have been in a centuries-long blood feud that is at once secret and subject to strict rules which both sides must obey for self-preservation. He or she who goes against the rules is subject to the kind of death only an immortal can suffer.

Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a vampire warrior who was specially selected by the powerful (some would say, most powerful) Viktor (Bill Nighy), a mighty leader of his race who sleeps through a hibernation determined by the rules of this ancient war for supremacy. Back when it began, according to this
legend, werewolves (here called Lycans) were the servants of the vampires. But, now, during Viktor's long absence, they have grown powerful and unruly and driven by their appetite for flesh. Selene discovers a plot aimed at kidnapping a human for reasons that are, at first, a mystery.

The human target of the Lycans is Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), a surgeon, who is completely unaware of the special interest being shown in him. As a team of Lycans closes in on him, Selene is there with her team's assistance and heads off the capture with overwhelming firepower on both sides, demonstrating the powers and the immortal attributes of the combatants. The loss of Michael to the Lycans in this clash serves to further defeat the blood experiments that the Lycans have been performing. Lucian, the arisen Lycan leader, demands that they try again.

When Selene expresses her fears about the Lycan threat to Kraven (Shane Brolly), the vampire leader, she's rebuffed and ridiculed. She continues her investigation on her own and discovers that Lucian (Michael Sheen) an arch enemy thought dead, is still alive and that he's behind the Lycans' attempts to capture Michael. She learns that Michael's blood is required in order to cross breed the genetic inheritance of both tribes to create a super-immortal who would be superior to any of them and thereby gain dominance to win the unholy war.

She also realizes that, in her concentration on Michael and on the danger to his mortal life, she's developed an emotional bond, once more defying the boundaries but resting on the hallowed ground of the "Romeo and Juliet" theme. Needing a powerful ally, she prematurely awakens Viktor, believing him to have the power to quell the enemy, save Michael and restore a just future for her clan. But, though he loves his little "death dealer" Seline, the leader of the clan can't go down the route she romantically envisions.

The dark imagery of the movie is illuminated by the classically beautiful face of the lead, Beckinsale ("Laurel Canyon"). She's as much vamp as vampire, and that she's clad in tight shiny leather doesn't at all hurt her stylish contribution to the cachet of the science-fiction thriller. In fact, the entire fantasy rests on it, and on her confidence as an action heroine.

The necessary qualities are present with dynamic conviction as she gets down with the gunplay and takes her place besides Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle (Catwoman) in "Batman Returns" (similarity of character names a coincidence? -- we doubt it) and Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity in "The Matrix" series. Beckinsale is swift on the trigger as she mows down the pop up werewolves bouncing off the walls like so many training park popup targets. On the physical side, the low-key lighting affords continuous study of her exquisite facial features, an examination from which I never tired.

The choice of Scott Speedman as Michael will be of most interest to fans of his ended series, "Felicity" in which he played opposite Keri Russell. Strong and handsome, he conveys a poet's emotional sensitivity which sometimes comes out as indecision. Not, perhaps a comfortable quality in a leading man, but nicely attractive nontheless and, with this exposure, predictive of a bright future on the feature film side.

Bill Nighy is the ultimate image of the evil vampire and serves this palette of underworld creatures well.

The grace shown in the athletic abilities of the cast is consistent and at a high level, bespeaking much training and inherent athleticism. The design of the werewolves and the morphs are of original caliber, bringing these ancient concepts up to date. The glowing gun ammunition is another nice detail for the imagination that glows behind this latest entrant in the genre.

The prevailing darkness and bare detail in the shadows is the studiously controlled work of cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts, BSC ("Disclosure", "Howards End"). First-time director Len Wiseman shows taste for the material and preserves qualities in his monsters to whom some of us mortals will be willing to relate. At 121 minutes his film is 20-30 minutes too long, but if you're one who relates to the genre with all its cliches, you'll find his update worth seeing.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written
Site Rating: 8

I agree, I truly liked the movie, and I find it rather odd about the other but, it is a good movie, and personally, I loved it.

                                                      ~~ Amara
I've seen the movie and agree with the review
Site Rating: 10

this is a great movie.

                                                      ~~ Anth W.
Off base(br> I've seen the movie and disagree with the review

there's tons of Vampire and Werewolf movies out there, but the two have never been combined into one movie and Underworld id the first movie to do that. That's what makes it good

                                                      ~~ Hawke S.

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