Review: 'Underworld:' very violent, very bad
June 12, 1997
Web posted at: 1:43 p.m. EDT (1743 GMT)
From Reviewer Paul Tatara
(CNN) -- I think it's high time somebody called a moratorium
on mediocre screenwriters trying to ape Quentin Tarantino's
chatty-catty dialogue. You know the kind of stuff I'm
talking about -- violently sociopathic mobsters blabbing on
for hours about the sort of stuff that usually gets debated
in Midwestern hair salons.
"Underworld," a new mob film starring the gifted but very,
very unlucky Denis Leary, is written by a guy named Larry
Bishop, and you can bet Larry hooted himself hoarse while
watching "Pulp Fiction." "You know what they call a Quarter
Pounder in Europe?" indeed.
It's not fair to say that Bishop is stealing solely from
Tarantino, though. He's also developed a quasi-Naugahyde
David Mamet jabber that'll make the hair stand up on the back
of your neck. Nothing that happens in "Underworld" makes
much sense, but I've covered so much foolishness in the past
few months, I've almost come to expect that.
No, today we're going to discuss the growing sport of
deconstructing the gangster genre by simply making gangsters
say and do things that you wouldn't normally expect gangsters
to say and do. Tarantino (a very talented, if over-praised,
writer) has managed to convince half the people in the film
industry that incongruent behavior is good, incongruent
behavior is funny, and incongruent behavior is the height of
creativity. I'd like to add that incongruent behavior is
paying nine bucks (in New York, anyway) to see a movie that's
a complete crock of former Quarter Pounders.
"Underworld" is directed by Roger Christian, who sports an
overdone visual style that's become the hack calling card of
the '90s. Glistening limousine bumpers cruising through the
damp night, mobsters in sharkskin suits pumping off shots
with pistols in both hands, guys grimacing as they pop out
(or slap in) a new cartridge full of bullets, sleepy-eyed
strippers undulating, heads exploding, heads exploding, and
heads exploding. This is just about as violent a film as
I've ever seen, and I'm not exaggerating. I'd estimate that
at least 10 people take it point blank in the noggin at one
time or another, and another 30 get variously gouged,
chopped, stabbed, slashed and machine-gunned while flying
through huge panes of glass. I'm not offended by the
violence, although I'm guessing many people would be. What
offends me is the absolute lack of inventiveness it takes to
pull it all off.
Joe Mantegna literally comes along for the ride with Leary.
They spend a full third of the movie tooling around in the
back of Leary's limousine, discussing in ominous, needlessly
roundabout ways, exactly who shot who, where, when, and why.
My God, how the people in this movie love to yack. There are
"hilarious" mobster conversations about Danny Kaye's
performance as Hans Christian Andersen, Katherine Hepburn's
charity work, and the songs of Rodgers & Hammerstein, to name
just a few. We also get to see a stone-cold killer go
ballistic because he doesn't like to eat green Lifesavers.
You see, this is really good writing because you normally
wouldn't get to see a hit man complaining about hard candy.
Oh, yeah, I already explained that.
There are several women in the film, but God forbid that they
be presented as anything but strippers or simple transport
vehicles for female reproductive organs. Annabella Sciorra
plays Mantegna's ex-wife, and even she spends half her time
in a prone position with her legs wrapped around her former
hubbie's gluteus maximus. There's also Tracy Lords, who
isn't around for long because she gets shot in the back of
her head after coming on to her boyfriend. He's the guy with
the Lifesavers, her brains end up smeared all over the
windshield, and I have no earthly idea why he did it. Later,
Mr. Lifesavers blows up the car with her body still in it,
and you can tell the filmmakers are real cool because he
doesn't look back when the explosion hits; he just keeps
walking. This isn't just garbage, folks. This is re-heated
At one point, Leary and Mantegna are debating the merits of
Leary's adopted gangster name, Johnny Crown. Mantegna's
character actually says, "It sounds fake. There's a
fakey-ness to it." You can say that again, Joe. They ought
to print it on the poster.
"Underworld" is very violent, very profane, and very bad.
There's less killing at your local slaughterhouse, and the
dialogue is probably sharper. Rated R. 95 minutes.
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