(Originally posted on 1/10/04)
What do you get when you cross The Matrix with Blade, The Mummy, and countless videogames? Why, you get Underworld, a film so derivative that it barely registers as a film unto itself. Rarely has a film "borrowed" from its genre predecessors this wantonly or profusely, with everything from its color palette (pale grays and blues), its slow-motion gunfights, its dilapidated Gothic metropolis setting, and its shiny black leather fashion sense lifted from one recent action film or another. And yet despite its wholesale unoriginality, I must confess that I had a pretty good time watching this icy, kinetic battle between aristocratic vampires and savage werewolves. Director Len Wiseman's frantic direction is a combination of Wachowski Brothers acrobatics and first-person shooter videogame flash, and his action scenes are largely a jumbled, incoherent bore. Similarly, the mythos about vampires and werewolves is a bunch of convoluted rubbish. Yet Wiseman's plagiaristic tendencies are also his greatest strengths, as the film's consistently seductive tone and style turns Underworld into an engaging if familiar experience. The film's trump card, however, is slender, porcelain-delicate British hottie Kate Beckinsale as a vampire assassin decked out in skin-tight leather jumpsuits and a flowing black cape and armed with automatic pistols. She's a delectable sci-fi creation whose every graceful back-flip and somersault put The Matrix's Carrie-Ann Moss to shame, and her detached, no-nonsense demeanor helps give this chilly adventure an S&M-inspired eroticism.