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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"Underworld Evolution"

If "Underworld" wanted to be "The Matrix," then "Underworld Evolution" wants to be "The Matrix Reloaded."

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Picking up right where the 2003 original (for lack of a better word) left off, this sequel features the same green-gray color scheme, the same metallic tinge, the same self-serious characters over-emoting while running around in black leather dusters, trying to destroy each other.

Also back are:

Kate Beckinsale as Selene, the hottest vampire, like, ever — even hotter than George Hamilton in "Love at First Bite" — Scott Speedman as the vampire-werewolf hybrid Michael, and Len Wiseman, directing them with all the subtlety of a stake to the heart.

Wiseman is also Beckinsale's husband, which might explain the loving way she's photographed, most notably in a tastefully lighted sex scene in which the camera pays particular attention to her belly button/hip region. And bravo — who could blame him?

It's probably the most tolerable scene of all — never mind that it takes place in a storage container to protect Selene from daylight — in a movie that's more often an onslaught. Wonder why it wasn't screened for critics before opening day.

In the script from Wiseman and Danny McBride, Selene and Michael are trying to keep Marcus (Tony Curran), king of the vampires, from reuniting with his imprisoned brother, William, king of the werewolves (or "lycans" as they're known) in a quest for world domination.

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The centuries-old feud between vampires and lycans builds to a crescendo of automatic gunfire, explosions, snarling creatures and gnashing of teeth — and that's even before a helicopter crashes.

Visually, the pervasive darkness feels smothering after a while — yes, this is a vampire movie, but still. And the action sequences, especially the battles, have a sped-up, jerky look about them, as if Wiseman is trying to obscure what we're seeing. Humans who've been turned into lycans transform with jarring quickness — we are definitely not watching Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video — just one of many special effects that look distractingly fake.

One thing that's impossible to mistake or escape is the blood — it's everywhere, on everyone and everything. And despite various characters proclaiming that too much blood has been shed already, clearly there's more to come. The end of "Underworld Evolution" sets up the possibility of a third installment in the franchise, which perhaps will be titled "Underworld Revolutions."

"Underworld Evolution," a Sony Screen Gems release, is rated R for pervasive strong violence and gore, some sexuality/nudity and language.



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