Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 9, 2004)
Since I receive many more DVDs than I could ever actually watch, I need to find some way to sift through the various titles. This means that a cover can help a disc stand out from the crowd. When I received Underworld Beauty, I knew nothing of it, but with a cover photo that depicted a babe with a machine gun, I thought this just might merit a look!
1958’s Beauty follows a recently released criminal named Miyamoto. We see him enter a sewer to retrieve a small pouch of diamonds and then meet with crime boss Oyane. Oyane clearly wants the gems, but Miyamoto plans to give them to Mihara, a former partner who lost a leg in the caper that sent Miyamoto to jail. We also meet an artist named Arita, who creates mannequins and uses Mihara’s wild younger sister Akiko as his nude model. Arita works as Oyane’s subordinate and gets put on Miyamoto as part of a deal to sell the diamonds to an American.
When this rooftop meeting starts to go awry, Mihara takes matters into his own hands – and stomach. He swallows the diamonds to keep them from Oyane’s men and then jumps from the roof. He survives this fall, but just barely, and soon expires. The gangsters plot to get the gems out of his innards, while Miyamoto works against them. Eventually Oyane’s men do retrieve the stones, but they quickly change hands, and this leads to an ongoing battle between Miyamoto and Oyane’s side. In addition, he tries to look after wild child Akiko.
Based on that synopsis, Underworld Beauty sounds like a pretty intriguing and exciting little flick. Unfortunately, the reality proves much less interesting. It contains all the right elements to become a lively potboiler, but it treats them in such a somnambulant manner that it goes nowhere.
The flat performance as Miyamoto provides a key reason for this blandness. The character possesses some inherently cool elements, and he really should come across as a true badass. Unfortunately, he comes to life in such a low-key and bland manner that we never see him in this light. The film fails to explore the character’s mythic potential and leaves him as a fairly forgettable element.
The movie also suffers just because there doesn’t seem to be much to it. It feels padded, as it presents about 20 minutes of actual plot spread out to more than four times that length. If it generated greater depth for its characters, this wouldn’t become a problem. Unfortunately, all the participants remain one-dimensional. Akiko never comes across as much more than an irresponsible wild child; even when the plot thickens toward the end, she still seems like a nuisance more than a personality to interest us.
It doesn’t help that so many of the individual elements remain bland. Some potential for intrigue exists but the film fails to exploit those possibilities. It’s mildly interesting to follow the path of the diamonds and see where they’ll go next, but that’s still not enough to sustain our attention for nearly an hour and a half.
Occasional moments of excitement appear, and the flick climaxes with a pretty decent gun battle. Unfortunately, by that point it’s too little, too late, and the action can’t spark Underworld Beauty to any higher level. From its slow pacing to dull characters, the film lacks much to involve the viewers.