'Underworld Awakening' Review: Beckinsale's Franchise Return Marks Time Better Spent Asleep

When I got off of work on Friday, I checked the screening times for “Underworld Awakening” in hopes of finding a screening that would be sooner, rather than later, so I could go catch it, come back to my place, hammer this review out for you, and still have time to relax with a drink down at the bar near my apartment. My plan immediately stalled when I found that “Underworld Awakening” curiously wasn’t showing at any of the theaters close to me.

But before I had to admit defeat and hand the assignment over to Lauren Veneziani (who badly wanted to review this one here, but you can find her thoughts over at DC Film Girl), I saw it was playing in a few theaters well out of the way from my area, leading me to high-tail it out to the boondocks before I missed the next show.

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My first thought was that my local theater chain was shoving the movie aside, and that it was an omen that the movie was terrible, prompting me to prepare a long bit musing on this matter. I later realized they were only showing in 3D nearby and the 2D version had been given the short shrift. Since I don’t like seeing movies in 3D, I skimmed over it on instinct. Oops. Still, I went into it under a bad sign.

Not that I had high hopes for it in the first place. The first “Underworld” was a kinda silly but kinda entertaining vampires-versus-werewolves leather fetish party, with an elegant Kate Beckinsale as Selene, the po-face of the film. Its follow-up, “Underworld Evolution,” was a complete bore, after seeing it in the theater when it came out, I remember almost nothing about it, except that I couldn’t wait for it to be over, like when I go to the dentist.

One Beckinsale-less prequel later, and we have the fourth entry in what feels like a franchise that’s dead and doesn’t even know it.

This time, humans have gotten wise to the existence of Vampires and Lycans (“Lycans” being fancy-talk for “werewolves”) and have begun systematically exterminating the creatures. Selene attempts to escape their local nameless metropolis with her half-Vampire/half-Lycan squeeze, Michael Corvin (played by a guy who looks kinda like Scott Speedman), but they fail miserably and both become the hostages of a generic soulless company, Antigen.

Twelve years afterward, Selene escapes, but instead of reconnecting with Michael, she meets a little girl who shares his hybrid powers, bearing the incredibly original monicker of Eve (India Eisley). Then they fight some baddie Lycans, some corporate goons, some Lycan corporate goons, you get the picture. This ain’t Bram Stoker, it ain’t even Anne Rice.

If “Underworld: Evolution” was a trip to the dentist, “Underworld Awakening” is the trip to the dentist where they dose you with gas, except less interesting. The first “Underworld” film was cold to the touch, but “Underworld Awakening” is a completely joyless experience that makes the mind wander and the eyelids heavy, because there is so little to cling onto for any kind of engagement.

The movie is practically plotless, opting instead for wall-to-wall carnage, but none of it registers because it’s impossible to care. Beckinsale’s character feels played out by this point. She lacks the spunk and charm that Milla Jovovich has been able to bring to the ever-improving “Resident Evil” films. Whereas Jovovich stays fresh, Beckinsale has become stale, too detached for anyone to see her as anything other than a poseable acting figure that kills stuff. Her little Biblically-named hybrid pal is a source of unintentional comedy, looking like a freezing, screaming brat with hypothermia whenever she transforms, thanks to a lousy make-up job.

The usually-excellent Stephen Rea’s corporate villain is so non-existent on the screen that all I could think while watching him here was that, after a few decades go by, Christopher Mintz-Plasse will probably look a lot like he does now. No action movie should be so dull as to bring up such thoughts.

Here’s the part where some pipe up and say, “But Hunter, this isn’t a movie designed for hoity-toity criticism! What did you expect, ‘Citizen Kane’? It’s just a good time! Relax!” Listen, I love a stupid good time just as much as the next working stiff, but I gotta have a big helping of FUN to go compliment the DUMB, otherwise I’m bored out of my skull. The “Resident Evil” films his that trashy dumb fun sweet spot, while “Underworld” just misses it completely. Here, nothing is fun, everything is serious, yet simultaneously stupid. This is why I’ve never adored the “Underworld” films the way some others seem to, because they seem to boycott fun in favor of pretending their goofy horror geek premise is a fantasy epic with guns, fangs, and tight leather outfits.

Time watching “Underworld Awakening” would’ve been better spent sleeping, because my dreams are more interesting, and I would’ve emerged relaxed afterward. Instead I stumbled out of the theater sleepy and bored.

If you wanna see a gal kicking some ass on the big screen this weekend, Steven Soderbergh’s “Haywire” is a much better use of your money. Otherwise, just take a nap. It’s more productive and cost-efficient than enduring “Underworld Awakening.” At least it was mercifully short.