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Dustin Putman

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Doom (2005)
2 Stars

Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak
Cast: The Rock, Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike, DeObia Oparei, Ben Daniels, Raz Adoti, Richard Brake, Al Weaver, Dexter Fletcher, Brian Steele
2005 – 105 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong violence/gore and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 21, 2005.

Movie adaptations of video games almost never work (2001's visionary and underrated "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" being one of the few exceptions), and there is a reason for that. What works interactively on the television screen has little chance of satisfying when saddled within the conforms of a scripted, acted cinematic effort that plays at the viewer, rather than by them. As an example, take 2002's "Resident Evil" and 2004's "Resident Evil: Apocalypse," thoroughly haphazard and unscary failures that didn't even begin to do justice to their source material.

Directed with a no-nonsense, go-getter attitude by Andrzej Bartkowiak (2003's "Cradle 2 the Grave"), "Doom" has a better chance of pleasing fans, if for no reason than because it stays faithful to the game and doesn't muck up to proceedings with a lot of pointless exposition and subplots. Indeed, the screenplay by David Callaham and Wesley Strick (2001's "The Glass House") is a study in minimalism, whittled down to the bare essentials in dialogue and character development so that more time is left for what audiences have come for: watching monstrous demons getting blown away with equally monstrous guns. Because of this, "Doom" actually works in spurts as a mindless popcorn entertainment, also getting points for retaining an R rating and using this added freedom for violence and gore to its fullest. Taken as a whole, however, the film comes up short, with a fabulously exciting and original five-minute sequence near the end that takes the point of view of one of the heroes as he blasts away the slimy villains suggesting how good the rest of the picture could have been, but isn't.

Set in the year 2046, when a portal known as the Ark has been created that can transport humans to Mars in a split-second, a rescue squad of marines are called to an archaeological facility on the red plant after a demon outbreak. Led by the gruff, determined Sarge (The Rock) and also including John Grimm (Karl Urban), Destroyer (DeObia Oparei) and novice The Kid (Al Weaver), the group soon meet up with John's twin sister, Dr. Samantha Grimm (Rosamund Pike), to learn more about the creatures, who have the ability to infect humans and quickly turn them into zombie/demons themselves. From there, it is an all-out war between the creatures and the warriors, most of whom won't be left standing.

"Doom" has so little story and conflict beyond the obvious (save for an unforeseen third-act surprise) that it mostly is just one stalk-and-kill sequence after the next, intermittent with some serious firepower. This works in its favor from a sci-fi/horror standpoint, although scares are few and far between, but doesn't exactly give the viewer anyone to care about. Who lives and who dies never matters, and so the experience of watching all the commotion only involves on an artificial blood-and-guts level. As for the centerpiece—a POV scene that mimics what it is like to play the video game—the gimmick is so surprisingly effective it is a shame more of the film wasn't told this way. There is an immediacy to this set-piece, as John Grimm prowls the dank rooms and hallways of the demon-infested facility, missing from the surrounding 95 minutes.

As he did in 2005's "Be Cool," The Rock deliciously plays against-type, this time as leader Sarge, whose intentions may not be as saintly as expected. The Rock has fun with the role, and certainly has screen presence, which is more than can be said for everyone else. As Dr. Samantha Grimm, Rosamund Pike (2002's "Die Another Day") improves as things move along, but initially recites her lines as if she is in a lackadaisical haze. As lead hero John Grimm, Karl Urban (2004's "The Bourne Supremacy") is a bore, so lacking in interest that he barely seems to be present even when he is physically onscreen. The rest of the cast members are just disposable lunchmeat.

"Doom" makes no bones about what it is, and doesn't attempt to be anything more than a shoot-and-attack creature feature. This is an admirable conceit, but in the process forgets to add much that is original or interesting to the fray. When the severed limbs stop flying, what is left is just an "Alien" knockoff, albeit a serviceable one. For fans of the video game, that is probably enough. For the rest of the potential viewing population, the results are undernourished and admittedly kind of forgettable.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman