Sundays are usually pretty slow for me. The day and evening tend to drift by, lost in the newspaper, a book, televised sports, leisurely cooking, and the occasional shitty movie. It was late one Sunday that I came across an awful latter-day Godzilla film dubbed into Spanish (that I subsequently reviewed, along with its sequel). I usually get all heavy thinking out of the way before the sun goes down, and a mindless movie is a great complement to the relaxed nature of a Sunday evening. Paradoxically, this past Sunday’s fare, while mindless, was also frenetic and violent. But it was enough to satisfy the craving for bad cinema that I think all of us have a weak spot for.
Doom has it all, almost. Bad script, bad acting, loaded with cliché, etc. Being an action film, it has the obligatory showdown in the last act that ends with an explosive finale. Two things that keep it off the bottom of the pile are signs of a respectable budget, and a first-person battle sequence, evocative of the video game of the same name the film is based on, that is strangely well handled. It’s ridiculous, but it’s a neat homage to source material that otherwise would have little place in a good film. Here, a little bit more of it could have been useful.
Doom is yet another in a long string of science fiction/horror films where a small ensemble cast is stalked and slaughtered one by one in a confined environment by whatever thing or monster the filmmakers choose to employ. Occasionally such films are done well (Alien). Mostly they are not. The litany of bad and mediocre films in this genre the last thirty years is long. Just a sampling off the top of my head reads as follows: Leviathan, Deep Star Six, Event Horizon, Mimic, The Relic, Prince of Darkness, Ghosts of Mars, all of the Resident Evil films, Critters and all of its sequels, and four of the six Alien films. This is only a partial list. There are plenty of others that are as bad or worse that I just can’t recall. Doom fits in well with all of these dogs.
The story takes place not long in the future. Scientists have been scurrying around below the surface of Mars for around a decade, but something...has gone wrong. A crack squad of future Marines, led by Sarge (The Rock) and seconded by Reaper (Karl Urban), is called in to investigate and eliminate the threat “with extreme prejudice.” The squad consists of the typical motley crew of misfits and insubordinate individualists only found in the movies. The Kid, Destroyer, Goat, Duke...no character that makes a mark as an original contribution to cinematic history. The standout in ridiculousness is the slimy would-be rapist Portman (Richard Brake), who can’t exit the film fast enough. What a crew.
What follows quickly is a descent into darkened tunnels (apparently this is the only unit in the entire military that has no night-vision goggles) and water-filled sewers (on Mars!) where the heroes have occasional confrontations with actors in slimy rubber suits. There is an origin for the monsters’ presence worked into the plot, revealed through discovery devices planted here and there in the slow spots, but there is no reason to go into that. Eventually, after much bloodshed, the monsters threaten to wreak havoc on Earth, and Sarge morphs into a cold-blooded war criminal. Only his once-trusted compatriot Reaper can stop him. The relative logic of Sarge’s decisions aside, Doom should have been full of enough monsters without having to resort to pulling bad guys from the main cast. It reads like a weak attempt at a twist, but it’s so ineffective I have no qualms about spoiling it for any potential viewers.
As I wrote earlier, the lone bright spot in the film is an action sequence where Reaper blasts a bunch of bad guys with a machine gun from a first-person perspective. Doom was the first great first-person shooter in the short history of videogames, and it’s hard to imagine a movie adaptation not acknowledging this legacy in some way. It’s short, and tries for a couple of cheap fun house scares, but when the sequence began, I finally felt like I was watching Doom, and not just some lame attempt to cash in on a brand. Such gimmicky filmmaking must be used sparingly, but a couple of other sequences scattered here and there leading up to the climax could have been beneficial. Unfortunately, it could have done no better than make an awful film rise to the lower depths of bad, just glimpsing mediocre. Also, the sequence is a reminder that the original game is a classic that remains worth playing, while the film is not worth watching. Still, Doom is better than Alien: Resurrection.