The good news is that everyone involved is O.K., and the Ford truck is fine. The bad news is that the passenger door on our car isn't going to be opening for any Bruce whose last name isn't Banner. My wife and I decided after the ritual exchange of insurance information with the elderly and probably partially deaf truck owner, followed by the ritual telephone call to the car insurer that neither of us was likely to be able to concentrate on anything if we went right home. So we went out in search of a mindless blockbuster to keep our minds occupied for the next couple of hours, and got into the last matinee showing of the day for Underworld. Yes, sadly this is a "Catch the matinee" film; not good enough to be worth the full admission, but not quite in the "Two-For-One video rental" category.
For me the major problem with Underworld is simple: you've seen everything in this film before. (In my case the majority was at the Auburn Ave. Theater between showings of Captain Nemo and the Underwater City and Latitude Zero. Your theater may differ.) This isn't a killer per se; Strictly Ballroom's plot was a cross between all the "show-biz" musicals of the '30's and '40's and the teen angst films of the '50's. Fortunately Baz Luhrmann the director managed to come up with enough flash and filigree to hide that Baz Luhrmann the writer had written a vehicle that might have starred Mickey Rooney as Andy Hardy.
While Underworld director Len Wiseman shows that he has a good grasp of how to stage firefights in badly-lit areas, he never manages to make you forget that writers Kevin Grevioux and Len Wiseman have given him a three-day-old cod to direct. (I think he should let writer Wisemen know that he'll never work in this town again, but then I have a perverse sense of humor.) Here's the quickie version.
Vampire hit-woman Selene is a dedicated werewolf exterminator, part of a war that has gone on for hundreds of years between the two species. (For one glorious moment when the film's equivalent of "Q" shows her some new ammo I thought she was going to say "I love the smell of silver in the morning. It smells of...victory," but the writer did me wrong.) One mission goes drastically wrong, and in trying to piece together what happened she realizes the werewolves her team had been after were actually stalking a human. In an attempt to discover what's going on she learns, in a deserted garage late at night, that the Vampire administration has bugged "The Washington Post" and that "no one is safe."
Oops! Sorry, wrong film. Anyway, the werewolf leader manages to bite the human to insure that the vampires will kill him on sight and to get a blood sample that proves the human is The One, who will lead an overthrow of the vampire overlords...
Oops! Sorry, wrong film again. Anyway, he saves her life when she almost bleeds to death and she saves his life by taking him to where an important meeting of the Vampire Court will take place, and after he escapes she finds him and chains him into a safe house located in a hotel that was considered unfit for habitation by Harry Lime, and heads home. She awakens the warlord who made her a vampire, he locks her in for fooling around with naughty wolfie boys, and leads the Vampire Court into a chorus of "When You're A Jet, You're A Jet All The Way."
You get the idea. You've seen most of this before. You probably enjoyed it then. I know there are some spoilsports that will point out that there are only four (or six) basic plots. Underworld goes beyond that. It probably goes beyond Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses. ("10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the Deerslayer tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together." Although "3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others." may be a better fit, considering the subject.) I don't want to spoil the film for anyone determined to see it by doing a scene-by-scene breakdown but you've seen this.
Selene, played by Kate Bekinsale, comes across as a frighteningly competent killing machine, but rather slow in the thinking department. (Think "Moose" from Archie Comics.) She looks great in her leather attack gear--in fact, stalking and shooting with twin '45's blazing I got a sudden vision of what would have happened if The Shadow had lost his hat and red cloak lining and gotten a sex change.
There is the now-obligatory (The Matrix has a lot to answer for) leather clad vampire swat-team, who apparently got lost in the wrong sewer tunnel in Blade II and ended up here. (Maybe Harry Lime sold them a map for pin money after he rejected the Hotel Rubble--see above.)
At this point I'd like to stop for a moment and add a grace note here, since this film trend has been bothering me for a while. Why leather? I know it looks neat, but If I'm going to go wandering around long-unused underground passages, the last thing I want is to be sweating like a diseased wombat, and unless the sweat glands die when the vampire does I want to stay well upwind of any such group--their "miasma of evil" (a fine Lovecraftian phrase) should insure that they're ambushed about every thirty seconds. (My friend Hank wants to see a film where they track the stylish bad guys via geophone, listening for squeaking leather. I'd buy the premise...) It'd be damn hard to fight in it anyway--the only reason that Diana Rigg and Honor Blackman used it so often in The Avengers was that when the show was broadcast live Blackman threw a man and had the entire seat of her pants explode on-camera. (And no, I don't know if any pants exploded in the audience during that episode. Get your minds out of the gutter.) If I'm going to wear something in a tunnel that's going to be hot and uncomfortable and not a runway model panting against my body, I'd prefer something in an Aramid fiber that might have a faint chance of slowing down a knife, bullet, or grenade fragment. But hey, they're dead anyway! Why worry? The werewolves are using ammo with "concentrated ultraviolet light" in it, but they can't have issued it to all the frontline troops, can they? Naah...
The male lead does a fine job standing in for the female protagonist in most tacky adventure movies, being bound and gagged with amazing regularity, and pulled along with his arm almost as speedily as if he were wearing the obligatory high heels. By tradition he should be a blonde with an amazing chest, and my wife assures me he is, but the filmmakers were willing to violate the natural order of things and let him have non-platinum blonde hair: I salute them.
Unfortunately, they didn't violate tradition when it came to one of the later battle sequences. One of the werewolves is a really big black guy. After he changes and attacks an invading vampire, the vampire goes to work on him with twin blacksnake whips, tastefully studded with silver. How antebellum of them. Now I try not to get too buried in subtext when it's a silly movie designed to be a money machine, but the overtones of this scene jumped up and slapped me in the face, and then began belaboring me about the head and neck. As we say around here, This Is Not A Flying Toy.
The vampires are portrayed in the traditional Eurotrash manner, with every member not on a hit team lounging about in a pallid fashion in their mansion or private train. (No, Hank, Udo Kier wasn't one of them.) Near Dark this isn't. The American Tobacco Council will be pleased to note how many of the vampires were smoking, not having to sweat lung cancer anymore. (Parenthetically, one of The Bad Guys has apparently gotten his shirts made by the same deranged tailor that did the suit for Paul Reiser's character in Aliens. The tailor must have an exclusive deal with Craven-Toadies-R-Us. Or maybe he gives a discount if you can produce oily sweat.)
The werewolves are all properly oppressed, in a vaguely Irish Loyalist way, with a leader who combines all the gentle, Easter Bunny good looks of David McCallum and Charles Manson, and a mad scientist right out of either The City of Lost Children or Dark City. Considering the way my proletarian spirit was being bludgeoned by the filmmakers, I spent most of the film wondering why the extremely bad-ass werewolves didn't come in and slaughter the pallid vampires wholesale: the "vampire coven" is housed in the most under-secured mansion I've seen in a film in years--Selene breaks out at least twice, and even the human manages to break out once. I know there are bloody great wrought-iron gates (that swing in so the heroine can spin gravel/blacktop in cars as she makes her overwrought way in and out) in front, but has anyone heard of locks on the windows? (You don't need them on the doors. Selene always dives multiple stories, cape billowing, rathen than open doors. In fact, I suspect she owns a middle-European contracting company just to build buildings with tall windows she can dive out of. Not that I'm going to complain about diving forward with cape billowing--Batman's been doing it for over half a century.)
The "R" rating is mainly for werewolf blood and ooze--Joe Bob ain't gonna be giving this one a breast rating despite the filmy female Eurotrash garb, although it might make it on his list for senseless Jaguar Sedan Fu. I'd expected a higher rating from Roger Ebert, however. He has often said he's a sucker for seeing things in a live action film that he's never seen before--witness his reviews of Die Hard 2: Die Harder, and Spawn--and there are two doozys in this film. The second one is the traditional Anime slice-someone-so-hard-and-fast-with-a-sh
I'd go on further, but you all have probably quit reading this ages ago. If it's raining outside and you have nothing to do, or if you've just been hit by a truck, or if you're feeling nostalgic for days gone by I suggest you check it out. But only at a matinee.