Underworld ( out of 5) There's a distressing little "click" that one feels as a movie they've long been anticipating manages to disappoint throughout its running time. As each successive 'cool action scene from the trailer' clicks by, we start to wonder if the movie has anything else to offer besides that handful of trailer shots. Sadly, Underworld pretty much doesn't. So simple a concept that it makes one wonder why it hasn't been a movie before today: a centuries-old battle between secret societies of vampires and werewolves that takes place in the dank alleys and clammy sewers of EveryGotham, U.S.A. Pair this conceit with a knowing nod to Romeo and Juliet and you're looking at an atmosphere-heavy genre concept that feels like a can't-miss proposition. Pre-release hype and an ultra-cool trailer had me fairly excited for Underworld, which makes it all the more disheartening to announce that the flick's only marginally successful; the worthwhile spots are absolutely cool, the gothy production design makes a lasting impression, the slick and fluid cinematography adds a glossy sheen to the proceedings, and the Battle of Immortals concept is periodically plumbed for some truly enjoyable cinematic mayhem. But... Great gosh amighty does Underworld pack an unending amount of lengthy and confusing exposition scenes, plot threads and supporting characters that repeatedly double-back on one another, an editing style that borders on the aggressively choppy, and wristwatch-worthy dry stretches into its 121 (!) minutes. And if a movie about werewolves battling vampires seems boring at any point...well that's just unacceptable. The plot is both a predictable "Warring Factions" chestnut and a somewhat sly social analogy on the haves vs. the have-nots. Basically the Lycans (see: werewolves) are the lower-class; they congregate in leaky underground lairs, they're sweaty and their clothes are inevitably all torn up. The sexy vampires are clothed in sleek leather, are housed in palatial mansions and look like nothing more than a room full of pale Italian fashion models. For a host of reasons that will be presented in a continuous loop of sketchy flashback sequences, the vampires and the werewolves really hate one another. A whole lot. Both clans have a looming deadline that incite some sort of plot device: the vampires have some vague-sounding Undead Summit scheduled...on the same night of a full moon. Bad scheduling there. Scattered amidst the ongoing battle is vampiric "Death Dealer" Selene, a lithe and lovely bloodsucker who survives a Lycan attack before embarking on a quest to discover the truth about the wolfpeople's latest quarry: a buff doctor fella named Michael. If all this sounds a bit plot-heavy for a B-movie about wolf-men and vampires, imagine your weariness when you learn that there's about 55 minutes more of this arid "plot stuff" to contend with just to get a look at two or three pretty solid action scenes. Underworld's astonishingly sober tone doesn't do the film any real favors either; a handful of dialogue exchanges skirt dangerously close to unintentional comedy. Yet despite a host of shortcomings, Underworld earns a mild recommendation on merits almost exclusively visual in nature...including but not limited to the ethereally sexy presence of Kate Beckinsale as Selene. She's not required to do much here (Kate's all leather-clad legs and dagger-eyed glances) but the actress brings a steely sense of command to her curiously underwritten role. The supporting players are as lifeless as their undead status would suggest, though Bill Nighy cracks through with an effectively oily performance as he plays a newly-awakened great-grandpappy of the vampires. On a purely visceral scale, Underworld scores a lot of points. Picture Blade meets The Crow or something that could be called An English Werewolf in Dark City and you're getting a good idea of how cool Underworld looks...but you're also getting a clear indication of how derivative Underworld truly is. All in all, Underworld is a criminally sleek (though narratively stunted) tale of class struggle between immortal enemies - bookended by a pair of ultra-slick action sequences. Had the movie delivered a bit more bang for the buck, had it been trimmed down just a bit, had it been a bit less languid and a bit more cohesive...it would have lived up to the promise of the trailers.