Saturday, January 31, 2009

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (***)

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.  93 mins.   R.  Directed by Patrick Tatopoulis.  Written by Danny McBride & Dirk Blackman.  Starring Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, and Rhona Mitra.

Rise of the Lycans, the third installment in the surprisingly still going Underworld franchise, is about as unnecessary as movie offerings get.  Audiences need a third Underworld movie like they need a hole in the head.  That being said, it's a solid genre effort and succeeds despite its direct-to-dvd sensibilities, and, in part, because of them.  With Kate Beckinsale having flew the coop, and Sony looking to make a quick buck in January, the filmmakers are free to pretty much do whatever they please with the vampire vs. werewolves storyline.  With that freedom comes limited resources, however, and this both helps and hurts the movie.  The special effects are horrible, looking like they were patched together for about five dollars.  The blue-grayish tint to the cinematography helps hide some of the visual defects, but the movie still looks cheap.  The design of the werewolves also stumbles - those things are just plain ugly.  On the plus side, the low budget means you can't afford stars, so we're treated to lead roles for two very talented, and deserving, British actors: Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen.  Nighy should be familiar to audiences as Davy Jones in the Pirates series, and he also had a memorable supporting part in Love Actually.  Sheen was Tony Blair in The Queen and also plays David Frost in the Oscar-nominated Frost/Nixon.  These two elevate the material, and when Rise of the Lycans lets the drama play out, sans special effects, it works.  Nobody will confuse Rise of the Lycans for Shakespeare, but if you're looking for a quick creature feature fix, you could do a lot worse.  And though it doesn't mean much, if you're already a fan, this is the best Underworld movie yet.



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