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Underworld: Evolution

Undead, again

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Vampires versus werewolves. The 2004 hit Underworld married this basic B-movie premise to big-budget action, suitably hammy actors, groovy sets and even a dash of subtext about racial purity, for an entertaining popcorn flick. In monster movies, keeping it simple works -- and Len Wiseman's sequel Underworld: Evolution blows it by becoming unnecessarily complicated, while slogging through the same plot.

 

 

If you haven't seen Underworld you'll be wicked confused, but here goes: Having killed a vampire leader, vampire and werewolf assassin Selene (Kate Beckinsale, back in her form-fitting rubber cat suit) is on the run with Michael (Scott Speedman), a former human. He's now a hybrid vampire-werewolf, capable of better stunts and harder to kill. Searching for them is Marcus (Tony Curran), an OV (original vampire) who, having received a werewolf-blood infusion, is now also a hybrid, though with different skills (he's got crazy mad wings!). Also in the chase are some high-tech SWAT guys (possibly human) of unknown background.

 

A flashback to the year 1202 further muddies the story by introducing William, the twin brother of Marcus and a vicious werewolf, who was supposedly imprisoned for all eternity (oh ho, I bet not!). It's a centuries-long, twisted tangle of vengeful purebreds and half-breeds, all spawned from one immortal human. But you gotta wonder: What are the odds that one brother would be bitten by a bat, and another by a wolf? Most people live their whole lives without encountering either.

 

I don't expect total sense, but much of Evolution feels like it's being written on the fly, simply to account for new characters and to quickly paper over holes in the mythology. A bit of intrigue is always welcome, but Evolution keeps the viewer confused for too long, only to later provide a hurried explanation (many of which amount to: not really dead, after all).

 

It's as if the viewer is penalized for paying attention. Take how these "immortal" creatures are killed: Some go down with bullets; others don't; and still others pop back up after being dead. Obliterating the head seems effective, so we get quite a bit of that -- Evolution is extra-gory, though the actors are as drenched in hair gel as in blood.

 

And -- sigh -- regardless of all the high-tech weaponry (from rapidly reloading guns that fire "UV bullets" to exploding hockey pucks), inevitably it comes down to good ol' fisticuffs between hero and villain. And talk about hoary -- the climactic battle is a variation on "brawl near the log-mill saw," a staple of cinema action since 1914 or so. But, dead, alive or somewhere in between: The gang in Evolution are ultimately done in by dullness. We've seen it all before.

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