Some of you may be wondering why the Bruce icon would adorn a review for some corny movie about an ancient war between leather clad vampires and werewolves, especially since Bruce does not appear in the film and probaly hasn’t even seen it, unless maybe on a plane. But some of you know what I’m getting at. According to recent reports, Mr. Len Wiseman – whose sole accomplishments in Hollywood so far are directing the two Underworld pictures and marrying Kate Beckinsale – will be directing “Die Hard 4.0.”
Now, I got a history with this movie, sort of. A while back, an Ain’t It Cool talkbacker named IAmLegolas begged me to review Underworld Evolution. I said I couldn’t because I hadn’t seen the first one and considering how boring I’d heard that was it might be more research than I was willing to do. As soon as I read this Die Hard news though I realized that Legolas had been ahead of his time and that the research would have to be done. And he was sure to point this out to me too. Good job YouAreLegolas, hats off to you.
I was already skeptical of this Len Wiseman individual due to a lawsuit that was filed over UNDERWORLD. Some company accused the movie of copying all its ideas from their vampire and werewolf role playing dungeon and dragon playtime games that they have. Now, I’m not gonna be judgmental about copyright infringement, and I’m gonna assume they’re innocent until proven guilty because the case never went to trial and this is America. But buddy, when your ideas can be confused with a fuckin role playing game about werewolves, you got a problem. That is the type of smear on your record that, back when we had accountability in America, would’ve kept you from even saying “John McClane” 5 times into a mirror, let alone directing the new DIE HARD. I hope you know you got a whole fuckin lot to prove to us, Wiseman. Don’t fuckin blow it.
But I don’t think UNDERWORLD is too bad, considering what it is. Sure, it’s one of these movies where the vampires are smarmy aristocratic asswipes who you want to punch in the fangs, except for Kate Beckinsale as the lead werewolf hunter, who is basically just playing Trinity from THE MATRIX but with an accent. And true, it’s kind of weird to have a movie all about vampires and werewolves where they don’t use their unique vampire and werewolf skills very often, and instead just shoot at each other. And also it should be pointed out that there is not a single intentionally funny moment in the whole movie. Which is fine I guess but if this guy makes DIE HARD dry and humorless I’m gonna steal his dungeons and dragons dice and his little pewter models and crap and feed ’em into one of those souvenir penny smashing machines.
Beckinsale plays Selene who is a vampire who lives in a big mansion with a bunch of vampire pricks in fancy dresses and sequined shirts. The others seem to just dress up and lounge around the mansion all day but she has two jobs, 1) trying to hunt down and kill all of the remaining werewolves in the world, because she is a genocidal maniac and 2) narrating the movie, because she has a sexy British accent. In her narration she explains that the vampires and “lichens” (her racist slur for werewolves) have been at war for 600 years or something and only a few werewolves remain somehow (even though all they have to do is bite people to multiply) and if she kills them all then we should be happy for her I guess. But on her patrol she notices two werewolves are following a regular human dude played by Scott Speedman from Felicity and XxX STATE OF THE UNION (as you know). So she becomes obsessed with him and ends up sort of kidnapping him right after he gets bit by one of the werewolves.
Eventually it’s revealed that vamps and weres are descended from the same dude, and if they can find a human relative of the original dude (such as Scott Speedman) they can just inject his blood and magically create a super werevampire monster. Not very convincing but oh well, I guess there needs to be some twist at the end.
Actually I did kind of like the way details of this fantasy world are revealed a little at a time. The vampire and werewolf families are pretty standard issue but I thought it was kind of cool when they revealed that there are 3 super old o.g. vampires who are “asleep” in underground chambers and take turns being resurrected to rule the family. One of them is the guy who bit Selene in the first place and she fucks everything up by reviving him 100 years early. And then he turns out to be kind of an asshole so it’s a double mistake.
Also there’s a little more to the history of monster civilization than you know at first. For a long time it kind of seems like you’re supposed to be okay with this genocide program against the werewolves. But eventually you find out that the werewolves actually used to be slaves to these fuckin prick vampires and had to watch after them during the day time. (Day time, by the way, is not dealt with in the movie at all. Instead, they just make it night for the entire movie.) So that alone is reason to be down with the werewolf uprising, but you also find out that the vampires started the war by burning the lead werewolf’s vampire girlfriend. So this whole superwerevampire plot is actually his form of revenge against the racist vampire assholes. It’s a movie about miscegenation being awesome. This is the first time I have used that word in a sentence before, so treasure it. Anyway that’s kind of cool, the bad guys are trying to keep the races apart, and they become more powerful when they are together.
Of course, they don’t want you to know that the werewolves are right at first, so they make them always talk evil and sinister. I don’t know how you do it in role playing games, Wiseman, but in real games we call that CHEATING.
I didn’t really like any of the characters that much. The two leads are fine but they’re not characters you love like Blade or Whistler or somebody. All the other characters are assholes who only do things for themselves. The old man vampire looks kind of cool, all covered in ash, but not as cool as the similar character from BLADE 2: THE GODFATHER 2 OF BLADE MOVIES. One of the werewolf henchmen is a huge Tiny Lister type with a deep, froggy voice that supposedly is not altered. He also happens to be one of the writers of the movie. Unfortunately, he’s only cool because he’s a cool looking dude and not because he wrote anything interesting for his character to do or say. Occasionally there’s a little bonding moment between the old man and her or her and her bitchy blonde rival, I could’ve used more of that grey area.
The real problem here is that it kind of reminds you of the world of BLADE, but sorely missing a Blade. And Blade, in my opinion, is the heart of BLADE. I actually kept drifting off thinking about maybe I should be watching BLADE or BLADE II and maybe next time I get real sick I should watch all the BLADE movies in a row like I did KILL BILL one time. What I’m saying is UNDERWORLD is no BLADE. I’m not sure if I got that across or not.
How good is this Wiseman guy gonna be able to direct action? Shit, hard to say, because this can’t be the style of action they’ll use in DIE HARD. This is a movie with flips, whips, jumping off of tall things, etc. It’s definitely inspired by THE MATRIX and BLADE and the things that THE MATRIX did that were inspired by BLADE. But without martial arts. There aren’t any action scenes that are exciting in the way of those movies. They use the “I saw a John Woo movie a long time ago” approach to gun fights, where if you look cool and fire off seven thousand rounds in a row with two pistols then you don’t have to do anything else. Selene just stands there and shoots straight ahead and that’s it, if she looks cool then she automatically doesn’t get hit. And each clip holds over twenty thousand bullets. They call those Stallone clips.
In fact, the one cool move I remember enjoying is the one that is the most ridiculous, she points down and fires around herself, cutting an entire circle out of the floor and dropping to the next level. Good job, but I’m hoping John McClane doesn’t do that move. Or if he does, they should show him reloading 15 or 20 times for the sake of realism. Bruce may die hard but he’s not Superman. He gets beat to a pulp and that’s what makes him John McClane. I guess come to think of it those are the two things that make them vampires, they can jump off of tall things and they can make bullets multiply like Jesus did with the fish.
Storytelling wise UNDERWORLD is a little slow (I did watch the extended version, by the way) but I didn’t think it was as deadly boring as I’d heard. And you gotta consider, if there was a real character in here like John McClane they could’ve wrapped things up alot quicker. They start telling him some shit about the history of Lucien the werewolf and his necklace and the vampire Elder Viktor and some fire or something and McClane would say yeah yeah yeah, cut to the chase asswipe, where do I put the bomb? McClane could easily trim 20-30 minutes off this thing. Which I guess would make it the theatrical cut.
There was one part where I got confused. Selene was trying to convince Pricky Vampire Guy that the werewolves were following a human, and he says, “Other than Floyd, why would werewolves stalk a human?” And then it cuts to this mad scientist guy who is experimenting on werewolves. So I assumed he was Floyd and the werewolves were trying to kill him for doing experiments on them and finding out their secrets. But a little later I realized the scientist was working with the werewolves, so he couldn’t be Floyd. And it wasn’t until near the end that I realized there was no Floyd, the guy had said “other than food.” So that was a little confusing part but it was really my fault because I didn’t have the English subtitles on.
But I do think the guy is an adequate director. I’m not counting on him but I’m keeping an open mind at this point. He’s not a Michael Bay type. He lets you understand where the characters are standing and what not. There’s not alot of quick cuts and fancy whooshing cameras. There are avid farts, but only in visions of werewolf past, which I’m not gonna get all up in arms about since (oh god I hope) John McClane will not be having any werewolf flashbacks. The visual style (lots of blue tint and washed out colors, dark rainy Budapest alleys, shiny black leather) is completely derivative but strong and nice to look at. He stages things to be pretty heightened and dramatic, which could work for dying hard. It’s melodramatic but I wouldn’t say it’s pretentious like EQUILIBRIUM. So it’s better than if that guy was directing.
Also you gotta keep in mind that fucking Renny Harlin did DIE HARD 2, and against all odds he came up with a sequel to DIE HARD about as well as anybody could. So it’s hard to know what to look for in a DIE HARD director. They can’t do McTiernan, because he’s looking at six years for lying to the FBI. They can’t do Harlin, because he directs movies about werewolves on the moon now. So they go to the next best thing, the guy who directs movies about werewolves in the sewers of Budapest. What I’m saying is, the jury’s still out on this Wiseman, so I’m gonna have to watch part 2 now. Stay tuned.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.