It’s round two of the battle between vampires and werewolves in “Underworld: Evolution.” I won’t reveal who wins, but the audience certainly loses. The first movie in the series was silly and well-nigh incomprehensible; the sequel matches it, and then some. Given recent controversies in school boards and courtrooms, the subtitle certainly seems appropriate, since “Intelligent Design” would never resonate in connection with such a muddled, mindless movie.
Since nothing in the story makes a lick of sense, and it’s rendered even more incoherent by the habitual use of blurred inserts from the first installment, audio-doctored overlapping dialogue, periodic montages of prior exposition and deliberately dark visuals that emphasize the gloomy grayish-blue tints so frequently encountered in such noisy shlock, it’s difficult to offer much insight into what’s going on (or why anybody should care), but we have to take a stab at it. Veteran vampire warrior and lycan (werewolf) killer Selene (Kate Beckinsale), dressed in her customary tight-leather suit, and lycan-human hybrid Michael (Scott Speedman), happily freed from the sickly blue-green color he sported at the end of the last movie, find themselves in a battle for survival against the vampire paterfamilias Marcus (Tony Curran), a sort of all-powerful gargoyle who’s been released from his “eternal” imprisonment by briefly-surviving villain Kraven (Shane Brolly). Marcus is intent on freeing his brother William (Brian Steele), the scion of the lycan line, from his perpetual confinement so that together they can destroy humanity and rule the world; and since Selene–for reasons that will be revealed but remain absurd–holds the key to William’s release, Marcus is out to get her (and her companion and significant other Michael). Also involved in the chaotic series of chases and fights that make up the whole running-time are Tanis (Steven Mackintosh), an exiled vampire “historian” from whom Selene tries to extract information, and a cooly methodical older fellow (Sir Derek Jacobi) who follows all the action with a private army of special forces troops and turns out to be an integral part of the vampire-lycan history.
The stupidity of the first picture certainly carries over here–with a vengeance. The motivations behind everything that happens aren’t just obscure, they’re incomprehensible; and the continuous CGI-laden fistfights and shootings that the combatants have with one another seem to have no purpose whatever, since resurrections occur as regularly as the sunrise. (There is one exception that takes things into philosophically troublesome territory, though: a character referred to repeatedly as “immortal” dies–dispatched rather easily, as it happens. Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?) All this could have a certain goofy exuberance if it were played with panache, but as in the initial installment, there isn’t a glimmer of humor in “Underworld: Evolution.” The whole silly business plods on with a grim determination that suggests a seriousness the material not only doesn’t warrant, but positively defies. The fault lies not only with scripter Danny McBride and director Len Wiseman, both of them holdovers from the first movie who seem to give their original contrivances entirely too much credit, but also with the cast, who don’t even raise an eyebrow or deliver a wink over the ludicrousness they’re spouting. Beckinsale is as dully impassive as all the string of recent movie action heroines, and Speedman, who not long ago showed some modest thespian promise in smaller, better pictures, has to undergo entirely too many lycanthropic transformations. (In a way he’s fortunate, though, since his “human” scenes are even more embarrassingly bad.) Curran sneers mightily as Marcus, perhaps as a result of the discomfort caused by all the heavy makeup he’s got to endure. Meanwhile Bill Nighy, who camped it up extravagantly as the evil vampire king Viktor in the initial installment, appears here only in the briefest flashbacks, and the slack is hardly taken up by Jacobi, who seems to think he’s playing Shakespeare, or Mackintosh, who does surprisingly little with might have been a colorful character.
But that lack of pizzazz is pretty much the rule in a movie that, despite all the gore on display (and there’s plenty of it, as well as a smudge of nudity in the Tanis sequences) and the fact that it’s about vampires, is an oddly bloodless affair. This second “Underworld” winds up being as lousy as the recent “Bloodrayne,” except in the technical department–which somehow makes it all the worse. Unlike so many recent stinkers, incidentally, this one was actually pre-screened for critics. But the only preview occurred at 10:00pm on the night before opening day. That gives the not-so-affectionate term “Thursday Night Special” a special meaning. The deplorable quality of the picture, however, makes the studio’s decision a thoroughly understandable one.