January 29, 2009

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Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (R)
Vampires and werewolves battle it out once again in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, a mostly Kate Beckinsale-free prequel to the first two Underworlds.

It must be fun to be Michael Sheen — on the one hand, you spend your winter going to serious awards shows for your serious movie Frost/Nixon and, back at the hotel, you might even catch yourself on HBO in 2006’s The Queen. And then you can go see yourself run around a castle shirtless and with crazy eyes as the werewolf Lucian in this, the third Underworld movie. Somehow I forgot when I saw the clean-cut Sheen act out episodes in history but he’s been howling at the moon in the series all the way along. (Meanwhile: Lucian/Nixon — how great would that movie be? Now there’s a horror movie.)

In Rise of the Lycans we finally get to see what the big historical beef is between Lucian (eventual king of the werewolves, known as Lycans) and Viktor (Bill Nighy, who in his goth get-up and freaky blue contacts is probably also having the time of his life), the vampire king. Seems back in the day, werewolves were just that — big wolves all the time. But then Lucian was born, the first who was able to change back and forth between man and beast. Viktor, who had been capturing and killing the Lycans, decided instead to enslave those like Lucian. They would do the heavy lifting at the vampire castle during the daytime, when, though strong and immortal, the vampires were hampered by their serious reaction to the sun (a few seconds of sizzling followed by flamey death). Add in to the mix Viktor’s comely Beckinsale-ish daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra), who has a thing for hairy men.

Big strong angry wolf-men as slaves? A hot vampire chick? What could go wrong?

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is, of course, silly. But it is entertaining with its silly self — giving you vampires and werewolves and lots of fighting and sexiness (though no nudity that I can remember). If you liked the first two Underwolds, I can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t like this movie. In fact, I think I liked this more than the first two, being as it’s a little more straightforward with its “this guy vs. that guy”-ness. It isn’t smart or innovative in any way (the CGI, in fact, seems rather dated) but it’s short and snappy and doesn’t drag. You want your children-of-the-night served up fast? Order up. C+

Rated R for bloody violence and some sexuality. Directed by Patrick Tapopoulos and written by Danny McBride, Dirk Blackman and Howard McCain (from a story by Len Wiseman, Robert Orr and Danny Bride and characters by McBride, Wiseman and Grevioux), Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is an hour and 32 minutes and is distributed in wide release by Sony Pictures.