Underworld review

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A blizzard of bullets buzzes round the leather-bound woman in black, as the subway station screams with chaos. Back to a pillar, heart in mouth, she locks, loads and comes out blazing. Can she escape Agent Smith? Where's Neo? Um, this is The Matrix Revolutions, isn't it?

Unfortunately not. And The Wachowski Brothers' sci-fi series isn't the only franchise first-time filmmaker Len Wiseman lifts from. The Terminator, The Crow, Blade: all are inspirations for this derivative genre offering.

The premise promises much: vampires vs werewolves. Unbeknownst to man, aristocratic bloodsuckers are waging a war against lycans, hunting them down with `Death Dealers' such as Selene (Kate Beckinsale). They're on the verge of wiping out their enemy when wolf warrior Lucian (Michael Sheen) returns to rouse his race. Crucial to his vamp-slaying scheme is Michael (Scott Speedman), a hapless human who Selene starts falling for - much to her fanged friends' disgust.

Others involved include vamp-daddy Viktor (Bill Nighy), Machiavellian Kraven (Shane Brolly) and saucy Erika (Sophia Myles), this being one of those scripts where the writers konsider mangling monickers konstitutes karictarisation.

However dense the story (in every sense), there's an interesting alterna-mythology buried beneath the slack storytelling, and Wiseman creates some neat comic-book visuals dipped in blue-grey hues. The climax is action-packed, although half an hour of terrific torso-tearing doesn't make up for 90 minutes of unengaging build-up.

Trouble is, Beckinsale doesn't cut it as an action hero. With her toffy timbre and tiny torso, she'd be better suited to Interview With The Vampire-style vein-draining, and with neither the power nor the presence of Carrie-Anne Moss, her attempts to command authority come off as Little Madamish. Speedman, too, is hardly a star - certainly not in a role that requires him to constantly ask "What the HELL is going on?" We're none the wiser, but undemanding audiences should give their brains a break and let their eyes do the work. Suck it up, don't chew it over.

Using hi-tech gadgetry, dark clothes and guns, lots of guns, debut director Len Wiseman conjures a good-looking but insubstantial homage to other, better, sci-frighteners.

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