Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans (2009)

Rating: **
Review Date: 2/9/09
Director: Patrick Tatopolous
Cast: Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, Rhona Mitra, Brian Steele

Silly, boring, and excessively violent, but considerably better than the horrid "Underworld: Evolution" (2006). Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, and Brian Steele return for this "Romeo And Juliet" rehash of the original film, which takes place several hundred years ago. Elder vampire Viktor (a tired Bill Nighy) creates a breed of Lycans (werewolves) and employs them as slaves. The progenitor of the species is Lucian (Michael Sheen) and he has a thing for Viktor's rebellious and unruly daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra). Their unholy tryst invokes Viktor's wrath and he decides to kill them both, which serves as the catalyst for a Lycan rebellion to overthrow their cruel vampire masters. And so begins the endless war between the two races that Kate Beckinsale would later get caught up in.

While Ms. Beckinsale's presence is sorely missed, Rhona Mitra makes a fine replacement. She's strong, tough, defiant, and has a hard beauty that's perfect for the role. Unfortunately, she doesn't have much to do and takes a backseat to the sparring between Sheen and Nighy for the majority of the film. She only has two brief and horribly edited action scenes, which is especially disappointing since the deceptive trailers for the film imply that it's all about her.

The film was directed by the creature designer from the previous films, and as a result it's overly creature heavy. Unfortunately, the Lycans are ugly and uninteresting, and watching them snarl and howl at the moon repeatedly for ninety minutes becomes tiresome. One werewolf is neat. One hundred werewolves are not. I had no idea my tolerance for werewolves was so low before watching this film.

While it's pretty to look at with all of its desaturated and cold blue hues, the editing is atrocious. The action scenes are a jumbled mess of frantic arm waving and unconvincing CGI effects. There is a surprising amount of blood thrown about, but the color scheme and jerky editing detract from it having any real impact. Michael Sheen and Rhona Mitra deliver strong and compelling performances despite the derivative material, and Bill Nighy goes so over-the-top that he becomes a laughable caricature of himself. His delivery also sounds slurred, as if he's trying to speak with vampire fangs in his mouth, even when none are visibly present. The story is serviceable, but falls apart under the slightest scrutiny. Even though we know what the outcome of the story is going into the film, the script introduces a bizarre and confusing discontinuity during the final showdown between Lucian and Viktor that simply makes no sense.

Curiously, the biggest reaction I had to this movie doesn't even concern the film at all, but rather the rumors regarding a new "Tomb Raider" film that's in the works. Currently, the actress who has been tipped to play Lara Croft is Megan Fox, which makes me want to scream in anguish. It was bad enough having a GOOD actress play the role with a fake accent and fake boobs, but having a vacant Maxim pin-up model try to take on the challenges of a globe-trotting British archeologist is a travesty. Especially when Rhona Mitra is the obvious choice for the role. With her look, her build, her dangerous charm, her physical abilities, and her ruthless intensity, she IS Lara Croft. I suppose the only thing she doesn't have is a large enough following to make her a bankable asset in the insane world of Hollywood casting. These people just don't get it and continue to completely miss the point. Hollywood has no interest in making a GOOD "Tomb Raider" film - they only care about selling tickets to non-discriminating hormone driven teenage boys. And that just makes me angry.