Film review: 'Underworld: Awakening' shows a violent side of Beckinsale

January 23, 2012|By BOB GARVER | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • In this film image released by Sony Pictures Entertainment, Kate Beckinsale is shown in a scene from "Underworld: Awakening." Beckinsale reprises her role as vampire warrior Selene in the fourth installment of the popular "Underworld" franchise.
(AP Photo/Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Last week in my review of the lousy "Contraband," I wrote that January and February generally consist of a miserable slate of new releases. The principle is that if a movie were any good, it would be released in the summer or near a holiday where it could get a ton of business. Though it will dominate the weekend box office because there isn't another franchise piece in sight, "Underworld: Awakening" is indeed a miserable new release. The film is so bad that the season could include three decent new releases and I would still consider it a dumping ground because it contained this one.

By my own admission, it doesn't help that I'm just now entering the franchise. I have not seen the previous three entries (which came out in 2003, 2006, and 2009 respectively) which may explain why I can't make sense of plot of this most recent installment.

 To its credit, he film actually does make a valiant effort to catch me up with a nifty little prologue. I understood that Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a 600-year-old human who fights on the side of vampires in their war against the werewolves. I understood that the vampire elders betrayed Selene, which is why she's less then welcome when she visits a vampire coven midway through the film. I even understood her relationship with a vampire/werewolf hybrid that produced the hybrid daughter she has in the film. But I did not understand Selene's need to kill everything in sight, and for that I found the film to be pointlessly violent.

As the film opens, humans are trying to wipe out both vampires and werewolves. A scientist (Stephen Rea) promises hope, although I'm not sure what he's trying to cure exactly. Selene and her lover are trying to get out of the city, but in a crazy mix-up she gets cryogenically frozen for over a decade. Selene awakens to find that both vampires and werewolves are nearly extinct and she has a hybrid daughter whose DNA can be used to repopulate either race. Despite the betrayals in her past, Selene is still most loyal to the vampires, which makes the werewolves the bad guys. Selene cannot let the werewolves or the human scientist (who has nefarious purposes of his own) get ahold of the daughter. And she kills hoards of people to make sure of it.

It was just last week in "Contraband" that I watched Kate Beckinsale take a discomforting amount of abuse. I should find it enjoyable that this week I get to see her dish it out. The problem is that the character she plays is so poorly constructed that I couldn't even cheer for her. I just didn't get the sense that half the people she kills needed killing. I honestly felt that some of the conflicts she finds herself in could be solved by talking and trying to make sense of the situation. But no, she needs to go right to the fancy knifework. It should also be noted that the film is so dark and ugly that the action is hard to follow. We don't even get too many good looks of Beckinsale in her skintight black suit, which is supposed to be one of the film's major selling points.

"Underworld: Awakening" is a mess, pure and simple. The only reason to see it is if you absolutely have to see the movie that everybody else will unfortunately be seeing. We've still got a lot of this sloggy season to get through, hopefully "The Artist" and "The Descendants" will get wide releases in the coming weeks and then you can treat yourself to two of the best films of 2011.

One and a half stars out of five.

"Underworld: Awakening" is rated R for strong violence and gore and some language. Its running time is 88 minutes.

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