Michael Sheen has made his name playing famous people in films -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair in "The Queen," talk-show host David Frost in "Frost/Nixon" -- and for his return to the "Underworld" franchise, his stylists seem to have taken Harry Shearer's "This Is Spinal Tap" rock 'n' roller for inspiration. Except here, Sheen's pants are tighter.
These are the little things you notice while watching esteemed British thespians such as Sheen and Bill Nighy devour scenery with their pointy teeth in "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans," the third film in Screen Gems' grimly competent, vampires-versus-wolves franchise.
"Lycans" follows the current trend of offering an origin story, here going back 1,000 years, to explain just how those vampires and werewolves came to loathe one another. It comes down to power and prejudice. It's hard to get along when the leader of one race, vampire ruler Viktor (Nighy), sees the Others as savages worthy only of exploitation.
Yet Viktor spares the life of a Lycan baby, who grows up to become Lucian (Sheen), the hard-abbed lover of his dear daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra). Viktor sees Lucian as a pet. Sonja wants to have his baby.
Series creator Len Wiseman gives way here to Patrick Tatopoulos, a creature designer making his directorial debut. Both men clearly have an affinity for the absurd. Another change: Now that we're back in the Dark Ages, the weapons are swords, knives and a steel crossbow whose utility for piercing any manner of cranium and cavity is repeatedly demonstrated.
The action sequences accent incomprehensibility, but whenever Lucian gets lashed (and he gets lashed a lot), Tatopoulos spotlights the splatter. Clearly, he's been lining up Mel Gibson movies in his rental queue, having Lucian rally the beasties in a brave-hearted cry for freedom . . . and some high-quality hair-care products.