Dir: Len Wiseman. US. 2005.106mins.
The mostly young male horror fans who turned 2003vampires-vs-werewolves saga Underworld into a surprise hit will probably find what they'reafter in this sequel: plenty of gory action, some cool effects and even a bit ofsex.
Broader audiences won't havemuch patience with the tediously convoluted plot and unvarying pace, but thatisn't likely to stop the sequel - once again starring Kate Beckinsale,with Len Wiseman directing for Lakeshore Entertainment - from matching, or probablyimproving upon the original's $94m worldwide box office take and strong videoshowing.
Sony's Screen Gems (whichalso had the original domestically) gave the sequel a 3,200-screen NorthAmerican launch at the weekend (without pre-release press screenings). With nodirect competition, the sequel - rated R in the US, like its predecessor -topped the box office chart and made a good start, outpacing the first film's$21.8m with $27.6m.
Handled outside the US bySony in some markets and independents in others, the sequel also opened at theweekend in Australia and the UK, with other territories to follow in comingmonths. The original managed $42m internationally; after Beckinsale'sprofile in Van Helsingthe sequel may be able to improve significantly on that figure.
The movie opens with anenjoyably over-the-top medieval slugging match, as original vampire Marcus(Curran) and his men clash with original werewolf William and his latestconverts. After that bloody action prelude, the script by Danny McBride (whoalso wrote the original) picks up the story of Beckinsale'sSelene, the vampire 'death dealer' who in the firstfilm uncovered secrets behind the age-old Vampire-Lycanfeud.
Together with hybridvampire-werewolf Michael (Speedman, from the firstfilm, and XXX2: State OfThe Union), Selene goes on the run,visiting a number of wintry, Gothic locales inhabited by various vampire types.Eventually, she meets the film's primary new character, Corvinus(Jacobi), who turns out to be the father of twinbrothers Marcus and William. The story's closing moments suggest that plans toextend the franchise into a third film are already in hand.
Following the plot is nighon impossible, though the plentiful vampire lore does at least give the film amythological patina that adds something to the overall effect.
The action sequences areefficiently bloody and violent, but rarely very imaginative. In herform-fitting black leather jumpsuit, Beckinsale getsthe occasional butt-kicking workout, though she doesn't seem to kick quite asmany butts as she did in the original.
Most of the effects budgetseems to have been spent on a few choice characters and sequences. In his fullvampire form, Marcus is a suitably nasty creature, with wings that double assurprisingly nimble impaling tools. His pursuit of Seleneand Michael along a winding mountain road is one of the film's highlights. Thewerewolves, on the other hand, are disappointingly generic CG creations.
The budding romance between Selene and Michael is underplayed, at least until it getsconsummated in a brief and pretty mild sex scene. There's more naked flesh in alater scene involving a horny vampire historian.
The largely Britishsupporting cast gives the movie some extra heft. Curran (known for his UK stageand TV work as well as features includingFlight Of The Phoenix and Pearl Harbor) isenjoyably menacing, while veteran star Derek Jacobi brings some credibility towhat in other hands would seem like a very silly role.
Terry A McKay
Nicolas De Toth