Friday, July 22, 2011

Movie Review: "Doom" by David Pretty

Good Day, All You Imps and Hellknights!

First off, must confess that I'm a fan of the Doom brand.  I flirted with older iterations of the game but really enjoyed Doom III on ye olde X-Box.  Hells, I even bought me the board game

A film adaptation of Doom seemed like a fairly compelling idea to me.  Casting Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in the role of "Sarge" made sense.  At the very least I thought that the film-makers could have some fun doing a scary, hyper-violent redux of Aliens, especially where it concerned the cool, multitudinous and icky nature of Doom's monsters.  I've met and fought this rogues gallery, both in virtual form and on a cardboard battleground, and I'm here to tell ya that they're a nasty bunch of vile hell-spawn that you don't mind mowing down with aplomb.

So, as you might guess, a Doom movie didn't need to be particularly complicated.  Just cast a bunch of neckless actors, arm them to the teeth and then send them into a scary, cool-looking Mars base and then have them run n' gun endless waves of diabolic McNasties.  So, did the producers of the movie pick up on how much of a no-brainer this premise was and just go with it?  Nope.  They fucked this one up something royal.

But before we put the dead Trite up on the examining table for an autopsy, here's the trailer for this shit heap:

Yeah, all that stuff about the "human genome" discovery?  Total horseshit, by the way.  But, I'll get to that later.

The film begins with a nice touch: the angry red surface of Mars standing in for Earth in the Universal logo.  After that we get a flashy but otherwise useless preamble featuring running, screaming scientists being frantically dragged to, doom.  Then we get to meet our would-be protagonists, and let me tell ya, there's never been a more charming, stable and competent bunch.

  • First off we have the virtually mute smart gunner "Destroyer", barely portrayed by Deobia Oparei.  He's totally laconic but since he struts around carrying the equivalent of a gunboat weapon strapped to his hip, the old "walk softly and carry a big stick" approach probably comes quite natural to him.
  • Ben Daniels plays Goat, the team's veteran officer and resident religious nut.  When he isn't mowing down enemies, Goat enjoys ritualistic self abuse, quoting bible passages, long walks on the beach and sunny days.
  • Then we have Sergeant Duke, portrayed by Raz Adoti.  At least I can relate to Duke since his interests (video games and boobs) aren't totally antisocial.   When we first see him he's playing a hand-held video game unit that's as big as a shoebox.  TECHNOLOGY PREDICTION FAIL!  
  • As if there aren't enough dysfunctional mutants in this retarded squad, we also have Richard Brake as Corporal Dean Portman.  Just as an aside, Brake makes Steve Buscemi look like Ryan Phillippe.  He's a craven, greasy, shifty, drug-pushing dirtbag; and those are some of his better qualities.
  • Naturally we've gotta have a wet-behind-the-ears rook in the picture and the script lazily trowels this old chestnut up in the form of "The Kid" (I shit you not) played by Al Weaver.  As if it's bad enough that this twerp routinely craps his space pants whenever danger is afoot, he's also strung out on happy pills courtesy of scumbag "team-mate" Portman.
  • In classic dumbass Hollywood fashion, we have a Chinese dude playing a Japanese character with Yao Chin as Katsuhiko "Mac" Takahashi.  Initially the script tries to set Mac up like some kind of ice-cold bad-ass but just as soon as opposition shows up, he packs it in like Mandingo.  
  • As I let slip before, Dwayne Johnson plays "Sarge", who we assume is the film's stable protagonist because, well, he must have gotten to be the leader of this chickenshit squad somehow.  Well, I suppose they could have said the same thing about Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now...          
  • Karl Urban plays the group's sharpshooter, Reaper.  Naturally, he's also damaged goods, having suffered through a traumatic incident on Mars which resulted in the death of  his parents.  Urban interprets this back-story by treating us to the twitchiest and sweatiest performance in cinema history.  
Seriously, how are we supposed to take these guys seriously as an elite fighting unit when they have more mental issues then the average sorority?  Jesus.

Speaking of performances, the film really set a new standard for the term "one-note".  Karl Urban perspires and flinches a lot.  Dwayne Johnson yells at everything, and not even convincingly.  Rosamund Pike (who plays Reaper's scientist sister Samantha) spends the entire film saucer-eyed and slack jawed.  Dexter Fletcher as the technician/human Segway "Pinky" constantly looks as if he's smelling something awful.  I guess it could have been what The Rock was cooking that day on-set or it could have been the script, take yer pick.
Anyhoo, these clowns suit up in equipment left over after a Starship Troopers fire sale, and then beam over to Mars via a handy device called the Ark; a script convenience which ensures that getting back and forth to Earth is about as challenging as getting the mail.  

No sooner do these chuckle-heads arrive at Moon Base Marz and they're already doing supremely stupid shit.  Like sticking their noggins into overhead air ducts, running around in isolated packs and wandering around aimlessly in creepy aqueducts (which in itself seems kind of a weird thing to have in an advanced futuristic research facility).

Soon the cliches start piling up faster then the casualties.  We get false scares.  Timely equipment failures occur during tense moments.  People wander off alone.  The soundtrack steals liberally from John Carpenter's The Thing and several other infinitely superior films.

All the while the camera is sliding around like Chow Yun Fat in a John Woo movie, presumably so attention deficit disorder types don't get distracted when a gust of wind in their living room moves the drapes incrementally.  Too bad that no-one told the producers of the film that there's nothing more boring then trying to watch underwritten characters spout inept dialogue and be puppeteered through a story completely devoid of surprises.

Actually, that's not fair; the script does offer up something resembling a twist, but it makes precious little sense.  When it happens you don't get the impression that it emerged naturally out of what came before it but  more likely because that's just where the dart so happened to land.

Essentially The Rock, er..."Sarge" starts to go batshit insane.  Out of the blue.  For no apparent reason.  Suddenly he's towing the company line about "protecting the facility" and begins indiscriminately whacking innocents.  Um, okay...why?  When his sudden turn towards megalomania is interrupted by a Hellknight attack, even the screenwriters can't resist commenting on just how arbitrary and stupid this all is by having him screaml: "But...but I'm not supposed to die!" as he gets dragged off.

Then director Andrzej Bartkowiak (try saying that five times real quick) makes the single dumbest mistake in this cinematic abortion: he actually gives us a "first person shooter" sequence.  It may have looked good on paper, but on film it plays out like video from a now-defunct Universal Studios ride fused with a mad dash through a cheap carnival fun-house.  The film ends as creatively bankrupt as it began: with some gratuitous punchy-punchy and some incongruous wire work.

The film does manage to reference a few things related to the original video game, presumably so they could legally stamp the word Doom on the promotional material.  Sarge stumbles across the ubiquitous B.F.G. (that's Bio-Force Gun, BTW), the Stan Winston creature designs are pretty decent looking and the production design is solid.  A-a-a-a-a-a-d that's where the similarities end.  

Indeed the film's gravest sin is casually dispensing with the whole reason for the threat in the first place.  In the original video game, the scientists have stumbled across a gate to hell and the creatures in the film are it's demonic denizen who are now running rampant in our own realm.  They aren't supposed to be a bunch of mutated eggheads who may or may not be evil just because an extra 10% of their brains have been unlocked.  Horseshit. 

Man, what a royal cock-up this is.  At the risk of sounding like a glutton for punishment it almost seems as if huge tracts of the film are missing.  Indeed, there's precious little reason given for the initial threat, and even less motivation for the character's actions.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna see if Doom III is backwards compatible on my Xbox 360.       

        Tilt: down.


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