|Honestly, we were kinda surprised to hear about a sequel to Underworld. We hadn't figured that the 2003 vampire-vs.-werewolf action movie was a viable franchise for a studio to bank on. But then, the studio in question is the Screen Gems branch of Sony, a division whose logo prompted a fellow viewer to hoot, "Hey! It's 69! Woooo!" So we figure they know their audience.
Yes, if you're looking for a goth-mo-licious bloodfest with a sleazy softcore sex scene, Underworld: Evolution is the film for you. (And while we're happy for you, we wish you'd elected not to summarize every damn scene to your girlfriend when you sat behind us Friday night.) On these terms, the film just about acquits itself. We might be setting the bar about five feet below sea level, but the film does at least clear the bar. There's lots of gore, lots of goo, lots of boobies and shiny butts. Lots of artistic lighting, a bunch of special effects and some halfway decent makeup. What's missing is a reason to care about any of it.
Underworld: Evolution goes back to the apparent source of the centuries-old war between werewolves and vampires: two brothers, one bitten by a wolf and one by a bat. You might think that this could lead to some interesting meditation on the nature of blood ties, whether one's obligations to family are stronger than those to the legions of undead freaks one has created. You might even think (bless your heart) that the fact that werewolves are considered beneath vampires has some bearing on the fraternal thing. Wrong on both counts. The film hasn't given much thought to any concerns beyond things that go squish in the night.
One of those things is Kate Beckinsale, reprising her role as Selene, a member of the vampire equivalent of the Green Berets (the Black Corsets?). Beckinsale started dating Len Wiseman, who directed both movies, while making the original Underworld. Now the two are married, and is it just us, or is there something profoundly skeevy about shooting a totally gratuitous, leering sex scene starring your spouse? It's like you're taunting the world: "Look what I get to sleep with every night! Now go home and spank it to this, losers!"
We feel somewhat protective of Beckinsale; she starred in one of the most charming movies we've ever seen, Cold Comfort Farm (Rent it. Now.), and we still have a lot of goodwill toward her. So it grieves us to see her pimped out like this by her own husband, almost as much as it grieves us to see how thin she is. Shiny black bodysuits like the one Selene sports amplify every convexity of the human body, but even clad in latex, Beckinsale looks like she's made of pipe cleaners. Kate, honey, why not come stay with us for a while. We don't have a farm you can put to rights, but the garage could use a good clean, and we'll introduce you to our dear friend cheese fries. You two have some catching up to do.
None of the actors fare terribly well in Underworld: Evolution. We loved Bill Nighy in the original as a vampire lord, but here his presence is too short. Sir Derek Jacobi seems to think he's in a production of I, Claudius that features a lot of velvet brocade. His attempts at bringing dignity to the film almost made us cringe, they were so misguided. We wanted to tell him, "You're in a vampire flick made for frat boys, dear. Nighy got the memo; chew the scenery like him!" And Scott Speedman---well, we're not sure he's capable of anything more than brooding, yelling and clawing, so perhaps he's used to his fullest potential here.
Look, it's January, the traditional dumping ground for movies. If you don't go into the theater expecting greatness, you won't be disappointed. If you don't go to Underworld: Evolution looking for anything other than an action movie that took a detour through Hot Topic, you'll be fine. We've blathered for almost 700 words now, but we can honestly review this movie in just four: It does the job.