Wednesday, November 26, 2008


As the latest entry in the video game inspired action movie genre, "Doom" (* out of ****) more than lives up to its nihilistic promise. Nothing about director Andrzej Bartkowski's tame science fiction thriller proves either original or exciting. Basically, the monsters amount to genetically mutated humanoids that not only appear ghoulish (what glimpses we catch of them) but also whose skeletal carcasses are covered with raspberry jam-like gore. In other words, the people that made "Doom" settled for lowest common denominator chills. Exotic alien predators don't prowl this mediocre melodrama that ranks as an all new career low for former WWE wrestling champ Dwayne 'the Rock' Johnson. Okay, these monsters might frighten those under age twelve or women dragged to this drivel on a date, but blood & terror gorehounds will yawn at these murderous, run-of-the-mill fiends. For the record, these carnivores consist of either ancient Martians or zombies.

Nevertheless, "Doom" rightly deserved its R-rating for the amounts of blood, gore, and mayhem that saturate its occasionally atmospheric but wholly predictable plot. No, this dull, formulaic movie won't induce nightmares. Based on the popular first-person shooter video game where players assume the identity of an armed psychopath on a shooting spree, "Doom" recycles material from better movies, such as the "Resident Evil" epics, "Alien," (1979) and "Stargate"(1994). The best of the few surprises in "Doom" occurs as a twist near the end but it may alienate fans who revere the Rock.

Noisy, rambunctious, darkly shadowed, sporadically profane, but entirely idiotic, "Doom" follows a squad of macho U.S. Marines dispatched to the planet Mars. Their orders call for them to contain a security breach at a privately owned research institute and retrieve top secret company records. Some exposition is required to bring non-video gamers up to speed about this intergalactic gobbledygook set in the year 2046. According to freshman scenarist David Callaham and co-writer Wesley ("Cape Fear") Strick's cliché-riddled screenplay, archeologists uncovered a portal in the Nevada desert that enabled them to travel through space to the Red Planet with minimal ill effects. Sounds like "Stargate," right? Mysteriously, super humanoid creatures have begun to kill scientists in the underground labs. The institute issues a distress call that activates a Rapid Response Team led by Sarge (the Rock), a combat-seasoned Marine with Semper Fi tattooed across his back, and his crackerjack commandos.

Unlike the sexually diverse Marines in James Cameron's classic "Aliens," the "Doom" Marines are all red-blooded males with nicknames that encapsulate their one-dimensional characters. Among Sarge's troops is a God-fearing but profane grunt who craves crosses into his forearm with a razor-sharp knife when he takes the Lord's name in vain. Another Marine appears to have been modeled on the Jesse Ventura character from "Predator," because he lugs around an electric-powered Gatling gun that can turn anything into a sieve. John Grimm (Karl Urban who played Eomer in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy) constitutes the most reluctant RRT team member. It seems that he once lived on Mars with his archaeologist parents and has nightmares about the experience. The trip back to Mars gives Grim a chance to re-establish contact with his estranged twin sister Samantha (Rosamund Pike of "Die Another Day") who guides Sarge and his men through the treacherous confines of the facility. Although Mars serves as the setting for "Doom," "Cradle 2 the Grave" director Bartkowski only provides us with fleeting glimpses of the planet's bleak, barren surface.

Dwayne 'the Rock' Johnson gives his least charismatic performance as the hard-as-nails Sarge. He utters no clever one-liners and plays Sarge with a straight face. Meaning, the Sarge character is about as lively as a cadaver. Richard Brake of "Death Machine" takes top honors as one of Sarge's low-life jarheads who gets his comeuppance in the least likely place. Poor Rosamund Pike alternates between being a heady scientist and helpless damsel-in-distress. As it turns out, we learn that the researchers on Mars have discovered the 24th chromosome that endows humans with supernatural strength. About the worst that these monsters do is cough up large sausage-shaped worms that bore into the victims' neck, similar to the squirming critter in the "Hidden" films that entered its victims' ears and drove them psychotic. The much touted first-person shooter scene has been far over-hyped and lasts for about five minutes. This first-person shooter scene like many of the stalking scenes in the claustrophobic institute suffer from a shortage of suspense and tension. Bartkowski keeps the lights turned low on his bargain basement monstrosities and his efforts to make them intimidating rarely yield results. Altogether, "Doom" is filled with so much gloom that the plot generates few thrills and chills and emerges as just another standard-issue, testosterone-laced, mutant monster hunt.

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