Slick and overserious, "Underworld" is a sci-fi actioner with a sells-itself pitch: Vampires Vs Werewolves.
In the shadows of the real world, war rages between the aristocratic neck-biters and the losing Lycans. But leather-clad warrior vamp Seleena (Kate Beckinsale) suspects the furry fighters may battle back, and defies coven creep Kraven (Shane Brolly) to pursue the apparently harmless human (Scott Speedman) she believes is involved.
There's plenty more plot - on the roots of war, cross-breeding, and vampire elder Viktor (Bill Nighy) - but it's too tightly told to unravel here. Attempting to explain the environment and undead genealogy, the makers offer an interesting new angle on age old myths, though the information-overload begs questions (Why do elders hibernate? What's wolf-warrior Lucian (Michael Sheen) been doing for 500 years - waxing his claws?).
Still, it's enjoyable to explore an alternative reality, and a blend of gunmetal glamour of gloomy Gothicism gives "Underworld" a beautiful look. Director Len Wiseman has a background in the art department and although dress sense and sets are styled/stolen from other successful sci-fi series ("Blade" and "The Matrix", most blatantly), he slides from scene to scene with an arresting comic book style.
His eye for acting is less acute, with uneven performances throughout. Beckinsale is no Carrie-Anne Moss, and exudes petulance rather than power, upstaged by Sophia Myles' bloodsucking schemer, who injects some much-needed sex appeal despite limited screen time.
Speedman, meanwhile, may have more to offer than looking confused, but his character is a victim until the final quarter hour, when his 'spectacular' action scene proves anti-climactic.
Given these caveats it's a wonder that "Underworld" remains so engrossing, yet it is curiously compelling. Perhaps it's the idea, the atmosphere, or the enthusiastic action, but it maintains a mysterious watchability which suggests it could become a cult classic. Scary.