Directed by Måns Mårlind, Björn Stein. Starring Kate Beckinsale, Michael Ealy, India Eisley, Sandrine Holt. (2012, R, 88 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Jan. 27, 2012
Perhaps the producers felt the Underworld franchise had gorged on its elaborate mythology – of Lycans and Death Dealers, vampire elders and hybrids – in the last film, 2009’s origin story Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. If so, Underworld: Awakening wildly overcorrects itself, shearing almost all substance, suspense, even dialogue from what was, at first bite in series starter Underworld, a kicky, Goth romp between action and camp.
After sitting out the last installment, series lead Kate Beckinsale returns as vampire Selene. She still wears skintight black leather like nobody’s business and works her leg muscles impressively (an entire workout regimen could be fashioned from her signature slide from squat to warrior stance; glowering optional). In the belabored opening, Selene’s voiceover gets the audience up to speed: Humans have finally caught on that Lycans and vampires live among them, and both species are now being hunted to near extinction. Selene attempts to flee with her hybrid lover, Michael, who has previously been played by Scott Speedman (the character, if not the actor, appears briefly here, a comical hybrid himself of body double and digital composite). Nefarious forces give chase, and after a blackout, Selene wakes 12 years later, on ice, in a research facility, and hopping mad. Let the chase begin anew.
The bulk of Underworld: Awakening takes place over roughly a 36-hour period, and with that kind of compressed timeline (and a mere 88-minute running time), one would expect a rapid-fire plotting. Not so much. Underworld: Awakening is squishy with gore, yes, but rather starved of topics of interest. There is running, hiding, fighting, shooting, bleeding, biting, slicing, dicing, and damnably little entertainment value in any of it. Not even the production design – predictably blue-hued and lurching between a generically dressed laboratory, sewer, skyscraper, and parking garage – provides any diversion, although an underground burrow of a vampire coven, all stalactites and flickering candles, would have made a smashing video set for an Eighties hair band ballad.