Okay, so I said I wouldn't lower myself to watching any of the films in the Underworld series. Well, the first film was already in my Netflix queue (I have films there that I have completely forgotten adding) so, as part of my Kate Beckinsale film festival, moved it up and gave it a chance.
The film, from 2003 and directed by Len Wiseman, is a standard bit of gun porn that happens to be about a battle between vampires and werewolves (here called Lycans). As pointed out in the "making of" featurette, it really isn't a horror film, as almost all of the horror elements are recycled from the long history of movies dealing with this subject. And here is where the film gets dragged down.
Beckinsale is a vampire, and also a "death dealer"--that is, she tracks down and kills Lycans. Their war has been raging for centuries, but she doesn't know why. All she knows is that she is loyal to the elder who made her a vampire (Bill Nighy), who as the film begins is in a long slumber. The head vampire in his stead (Shane Brolly) is a weaselly guy who has the hots for Beckinsale.
The Lycans, under the leadership of Michael Sheen, are after a human (Scott Speedman). It all has to do with blood and an attempt to cross vampires with Lycans to form one species. All this mumbo-jumbo is fine as it is, but as the film goes on all of this gets very tedious. Especially the interminable rules and codes these creatures live by. It would seem the vampires are caught up in protocol, or "the covenant." They must be nuts for Roberts' Rules of Order. They are also the grimmest bunch you've ever seen. For once I'd like to see a non-comic vampire film in which a vampire actually smiles or cracks a joke. These vampires are major bummers.
Of course all of Underworld is shot in dark, dank places, like subterranean tunnels, and it's raining a lot. I know that vampires can't be out in the sun, but this film is visually repressive. I'd love a change of pace and see vampires and werewolves duke it out in a field of poppies.
As for Beckinsale, she looks great in a tight-fitting Lycra bodysuit, and it's interesting that the gender roles have been switched--she's the kick-ass character who gets things done, while Speedman plays the passive, victim role. Also, it should be noted that both of Beckinsale's husbands, Sheen and Wiseman, are involved in this film. What happened behind the scenes may be more interesting than what's on the screen.