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MOVIE REVIEW

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

In 'Underworld' roots tale, history's a dull subject

By Joel Brown
Globe Correspondent / January 26, 2009
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"Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" is a dark and stormy prequel, reaching back to the Middle Ages to explain the roots of the centuries-long war between werewolves and vampires seen in 2003's "Underworld" and 2006's "Underworld: Evolution." The great mystery here, though, is Rhona Mitra's upper lip, which appears merely plump in some shots and grossly overinflated in others.

Mitra is Sonja, the lovely and brave daughter of vampire lord Viktor, played by the great Bill Nighy in a sort of Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing homage, complete with eerily glowing blue eyes. Viktor rules over a gi-normous castle and surrounding lands, where the locals live in fear of marauding werewolves. Viktor has managed to breed himself a race of werewolf Lycans, who do odd jobs around the castle and live as captives in the dungeons. Like many of us these days, they seem under-employed, which makes them restless.

The progenitor of all the Lycans is the brave Lucian, played by Michael Sheen. Draped in leather and chains, Lucian looks like a heavy metal guitarist on a hot day at Ozzfest. Which is to say, over-amped and more than a little ripe. But love has no pride. If you've already guessed that Lucian and Sonja are having it off in a secret tunnel under the castle, give yourself a gold star. Their forbidden passion is discovered, Lucian calls a Lycan/werewolf revolt like a toothy Che Guevara, and things get bloody.

Director Patrick Tatopoulos was responsible for the creature effects in the two earlier installments, but he's not great at staging fights or directing actors. Most scenes beg for the "Mystery Science Theater" treatment.

Fans of the "Underworld" mythology will no doubt be gratified to learn how it all started out. But first-timers may find themselves confused - for starters, the slavering, blood-drenched werewolves are good guys in this one. Sort of. Trying to dope out a message about freedom and self-determination here will just give you a headache.

UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS Directed by Patrick Tatopoulos

Written By: Danny McBride, Dirk Blackman, and Howard McCain

Starring: Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, Rhona Mitra

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 92 minutes

Rated: R (mucho violence, bloodshed, whipping, etc. - and one disappointingly mild sex scene)

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