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The fourth entry in this profitable B-movie series helpfully brings its viewers up to speed with a quick recap of the first two movies (conveniently skipping the third, which star Kate Beckinsale sat out). The comely British actress — who also can be seen in theaters now as the wife-in-peril in Contraband — has returned to once again don the skintight black latex outfit that is these films’ biggest draw to fanboys. More aggressively violent and thankfully less mythology-driven than previous installments, Underworld: Awakening is strictly for the converted.
This film begins with vampiress Selene waking up after being in a cryogenically frozen state for 12 years, a convincing plot element since the 38-year-old actress doesn’t seem to have aged a day. Apparently we humans have gotten hip to the preponderance of Lycans — werewolves, to the uninitiated — and bloodsuckers in our midst and have made determined efforts to eradicate them.
Busting out of the lab, Selene takes no prisoners. Indeed, the character seems even more ruthlessly violent and murderous than in the previous films, perhaps the result of having been rudely awakened from a nice long nap.
Accompanied by a hunky vampire (Theo James) and a young woman (India Eisley) awakened from a similarly frozen state, Selene finds herself in an endless series of violent battles with both humans and Lycans — who are, in many cases, one and the same. Along the way, a sympathetic cop (Michael Ealy) tries to help out, with unfortunate results.
The actress goes through her energetic paces and an awful lot of wire work with the requisite athleticism and steely facial expressions. When she’s not actually fighting, her performance consists of little more than striding purposefully toward or away from the camera: “I’m not good with feelings,” Selene accurately points out.
Swedish directors Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein — they’re billed by just their last names in the credits, which admittedly looks cooler — keep the pace frenetic enough that the film clocks in at just 89 minutes. This is the first of the series to be done in 3D but — considering the monochromatic, blue-gray palette, the frenzied editing and the general darkness — it results only in making the proceedings harder to see in an additional dimension.
As is customary for the series, there are veteran British actors on hand to pick up a quick paycheck. Here, replacing such predecessors as Bill Nighy and Derek Jacobi, are Stephen Rea as an evil scientist and Charles Dance as the head of a vampire coven. Both look despondent that they no longer have any Harry Potter movies to provide an alternative form of financial security.
Opens: Jan. 20 (Screen Gems)
Production: Lakeshore Entertainment, Sketch Films
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Michael Ealy, Theo James, India Eisley, Charles Dance
Directors: Mans Marlind, Bjorn Stein
Screenwriters: Len Wiseman, John Hlavin, J. Michael Straczynski, Allison Burnett
Producers: Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Len Wiseman, Richard Wright
Executive producers: David Kern, James McQuaide, David Coatsworth, Eric Reed, Skip Williamson, Henry Winterstern
Director of photography: Scott Kevan
Production designer: Claude Pare
Editor: Jeff McEvoy
Costume designer: Monique Prudhomme
Music: Paul Haslinger
Rated R, 89 min.
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