"UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING" — ★ — Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Charles Dance, India Eisley, Michael Ealy; R (strong violence and gore, and for some language); in general release
Pitiless, puerile, pointless and perfunctory — and those are just the "P's" — "Underworld: Awakening" was brought into this world to revamp the vampire franchise and prove Kate Beckinsale can still wear the spandex, the leather bustier, the werewolf-kicking boots and the black leather cape of "death dealer" Selene.
But as any fashionista will tell you, just because you can get away with wearing something is no reason to actually do it.
Beckinsale, her mop of gelled, jet-black hair dropped over one luminescent-blue eye, never makes us forget that she's doing this for the paycheck, for the chance to be something more than Mark Wahlberg's victim-wife in "Contraband," to prove that Gina Carano may be the real action deal in "Haywire," but that she'll never pack the fanboys in like the Brit with Grit.
She had pretty much walked away from this franchise that made her with the last film, "Rise of the Lycans." But mommy needs a new pair of shoes. Big lace-up ones with high heels and soles made for cracking ribs.
Here the story is that she was nabbed in the middle of her last escape and thrown on ice. She awakens from cryogenic sleep to see that 12 years have passed and her werewolf/vampire "hybrid" lover Michael is gone — swept up in the purges humans carried out to rid the world of bloodsuckers.
But there is a child (India Eisley) that the surviving werewolves (Lycans) want to get their hands on, of which the few remaining covens of vampires are leery.
It's a humorless movie of chases and epic brawls, of beasties, bites, blades and blood — those are the B's. No time for empathy or character development (Michael Ealy is a sympathetic cop, Theo James is a hunky young vampire who notices Selene's outfit) or clever dialogue.
Watching the great Charles Dance, this "Underworld's" version of Bill Nighy — a grand British character actor willing to look foolish in fangs — try to deliver bad lines with a mouth full of fake teeth is what counts for entertainment here.
The new villain is a scientist (Stephen Rea) who has been keeping Selene on ice and the child he calls "Subject 2" under wraps. And the new take on all this, by Swedish directors Bjorn Stein and Mans Marlind, is to show the bites, slashes and arterial spurts in extreme closeup. And in 3-D.
For her sake, let's hope Beckinsale bought a house or pre-paid a college fund with this check, and that by the time the "Total Recall" remake opens with her in it this summer that we've all forgotten the lapse in judgment that "Awakening" was. She should have slept in for this one.
"Underworld: Awakening" is rated R for strong violence and gore, and for some language; running time: 82 minutes.