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Film review: Underworld

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Kate Beckinsale

Kate Beckinsale

"Underworld" is a novel idea — essentially Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" (at least the MTV-inspired version of it) trussed up in horror trappings and given a "Matrix"-like spin. But that setup can only take it so far.

Despite the intriguing premise, the filmmakers have chosen to concentrate their attention on gory action rather than characterizations and coherent storytelling. As a result, the audience has so little invested in these characters and situations that it's hard to feel much for them — or the movie — outside of a couple of exciting action scenes that may elicit a few "whoas" from audiences.

Still, as sketchy as it is, this horror/action thriller is likely to appeal to at least fans of the "Blade" movies, and perhaps those drawn to the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" television series.

The plot of "Underworld" centers on the centuries-long war between vampires (or "Vampyres," as they're known here) and werewolves (or "Lycans"). Fighting for the bloodsuckers is the black-leather-clad Selene (Kate Beckinsale).

This "death-dealer" has never really had any reason to oppose her people, until Selene finds herself drawn to Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), a human who's being sought by the Lycans. However, she's been forbidden to see him by her vampire overlords. And it

turns out there's another catch — Michael has been bitten by one of the Lycans, and with the full moon just two days away, he's about to transform.

Among the film's bigger problems is that we're never really sure whom we're supposed to be rooting for. Also, the movie is filled with several cheesy and either cringe-worthy or giggle-inducing moments — such as supporting performer Wentworth Miller's obvious "homage" to Peter Lorre.

Also, the idea that the film is trying to sell us on Beckinsale — who probably weighs all of 100 pounds soaking wet — as a cold-blooded killer is just plain laughable. She's never convincing, nor is her romance with Speedman's bland character.

Still, the supporting cast does turn in some good work, especially Michael Sheen (a British actor; no relation to the Sheen-Estevez clan), who makes the Lycan chieftain the most interesting character here.

"Underworld" is rated R for violence, gore, scattered use of strong sexual profanity, some drug content, use of crude slang terms and a scene of torture. Running time: 121 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com