By Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter
Watching the fifth installment of the Underworld action-horror franchise, one question inevitably springs to mind: After all this time, can’t werewolves and vampires just get along?
Apparently not, despite the best efforts of the characters in the thankfully now defunct Twilight series. Strictly for rabid fans, Underworld: Blood Wars is a generic, by-the-numbers genre exercise that, for all its talk of blood, is strictly anemic.
It’s particularly depressing to see Kate Beckinsale once again don her tight black spandex outfit after displaying her versatility and comic skills in Love & Friendship. Yet here she is again (after all, bills must be paid) starring as the “Vampire Death Dealer” Selene, who’s in more trouble than ever. She’s now forced to battle both the Lycans, headed by the fearsome Marius (Tobias Menzies), and a fellow Vampire, Semira (Lara Pulver), whose villainy is in direct proportion to the amount of cleavage she bares. And she bares a lot. In an example of her badass style, she tells her eager-to-please underling (Bradley James), “There are other ways to prove your devotion,” before pushing his head down to service her orally.
The film begins with Beckinsale narrating a recap of the previous films, complete with flashbacks, which is very helpful because, even if you’ve seen them all, you’re likely to have forgotten everything about them. After that opening, it’s only mere seconds before the first of many fight sequences, staged in efficient fashion by director Anna Foerster (Outlander) who, despite being new to the series, doesn’t bring any fresh ideas to the table. Selene’s vampire ally David is injured in the course of the battle, which handily provides the opportunity for hunky actor Theo James to take off his shirt. But not to worry, it’s not so serious an injury that Selene can’t fix him up with some quick impromptu surgery.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around Marius’ desperate efforts to find Selene’s daughter, who she banished for her own safety in the last film (again, this is where that recap comes in handy). Apparently, he’s convinced that her hybrid Vampire-Lycan blood will make him immortal.
During their climactic showdown, Marius assures Selene that he won’t kill her daughter. “All I want is her blood,” he says, which, under the circumstances, actually sounds pretty reasonable.
By the time the film reaches its conclusion after a mercifully brief 91 minutes, fangs have been bared; the Lycans have had a bad hair day; characters have been killed, and in some cases brought back to life; and, rather incongruously, a lot of automatic weaponry has been fired. The action is nearly relentless, only occasionally interrupted by humorless, tedious exposition, but despite the freneticism it’s almost all completely boring. That is, when you can see it, since even in the non-3D presentation the proceedings are so dark and murky that you’ll feel compelled to whip non-existent sunglasses off your face.
Beckinsale still provides a commanding presence, handling the intense physicality of her role with an ease borne of countless Pilates classes. Charles Dance also returns for this installment, continuing the longstanding cinematic tradition of distinguished British thespians appearing in Hollywood crap in lieu of receiving a proper pension.
Production: Lakeshore Entertainment, Screen Gems, Sketch Films
Distributor: Screen Gems
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Lara Pulver, Tobias Menzies, Bradley James, James Faulkner, Charles Dance
Director: Anna Foerster
Screenwriter: Cory Goodman
Producers: Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Len Wiseman, Richard S. Wright, David Kern
Executive producers: Eric Reid, James McQuaide, Henry Winterstern, Ben Waisbren
Director of photography: Karl Walter Lindenlaub
Production designer: Ondrej Nekvasil
Editor: Peter Amundson
Costume designer: Bojana Nikitovic
Composer: Michael Wandmacher
Casting: Julie Hutchinson, Maya Kvetny, Suzanne Smith
Rated R, 91 min.