"Doomsday" is to writer-director Neil Marshall's auspiciously frightening previous film "The Descent
," as Steven Spielberg's "1941" is to "Jaws." Soulless, impersonal and shamelessly derivative, this dime-a-dozen sci-fi garbage is such a depressing step down for Marshall that one can hardly believe it was made by the same guy responsible for the rightfully acclaimed "The Descent
." Is "Doomsday" a temporary lapse in judgment, or was his first feature a fluke? The jury's still out.
In 2008 Scotland, the outbreak of the deadly "Reaper Virus" caused a catastrophic societal breakdown and an untold number of deaths. By 2035, the hot zone city of Glasgow has been quarantined and the virus has subsidedthat is, until it resurfaces in London. Desperate to find a cure before things once again get out of hand, a team of elite ops are hired by Prime Minister John Hatcher (Alexander Siddig) to journey across the barrier wall and locate Kane (Malcolm McDowell), the one man who may hold the key to saving the world. Based on the recommendation of Chief of Police Bill Nelson (Bob Hopkins), the chosen few for this dangerous mission include one Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra), a tough cookie separated from her mom as a child and yearning to make her way back to her childhood home.
"Doomsday" is an interminable bore, a messy, crushingly underdeveloped genre piece that only really gets one thing right: an elaborately conceived climactic roadway chase that boasts showmanship and adrenaline. It's a temporary deflection of the pressing issues at the core of this project-gone-wrong. For one, the film hasn't a handle on tone or story. Is this a horror movie? There's certainly enough graphic violence and severed limbs for it, but there's no attempt to make it scary. Is it a sci-fi drama? Not a good one, since exploration of the virus and the realities of the situation are never dealt with. Is it a comedy? The occasional one-liners, all of them unfunny, suggest the intention for humor, but come at awkward times and must contend with straight material. Is it a slam-bang actioner? Explosions are plentiful, but the pacing is actually sluggish until the halfway point.
Director Neil Marshall borrows elements from too many other movies to count, forgetting to put a twist of innovation into it. The film begins as a grim "28 Days Later
"/"28 Weeks Later
"-inspired tale of the apocalypse, then enters into mindless "Resident Evil
" territory, then decides it doesn't have any interest in either. By the time a hostile community of murderous, savage punk rockers enter the picture and dance to Fine Young Cannibals' 1980s pop hit "Good Thing" before roasting a victim over a fire and eating him, "Doomsday" has become a "Mad Max" rip-off with an extra screw loose. Of all things, 1986's "Dead-End Drive In" also appears to have influenced Marshall during the middle hour. Not to be outdone, Marshall next moves into "Lord of the Rings
" territory (does a line of people walking across a mountainous landscape sound familiar?), then crosses over into Monty Python as the setting switches to a castle where the inhabitants all dress and behave like it's the Dark Ages, and finally ends with a set-piece that is an awful lot like the car chase in Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof
All of these warring segments and styles get to be too much and too little, helped none by a cast of interchangeably empty characters that the viewer couldn't give a rat's tail about. Only four actors make any kind of impression at all. As the Sarah Connor-esque Eden Sinclair, Rhona Mitra (2007's "Skinwalkers
") shares a striking resemblance with Kate Beckinsale and Meredith Salenger, and that's about all that can be said of her performance. She looks believably tough. Bob Hoskins (2006's "Hollywoodland
") is wasted as Eden's confidante Bill Nelson, but still retains his dignity in his handful of scenes. As Kane, Malcolm McDowell seems to be channeling his previous film role of Sam Loomis in Rob Zombie's disheartening 2007 "Halloween
" remake. And, as psychopathic head of the punks Sol, Craig Conway is fraught with mascara and appropriately wild-eyed.
"Doomsday" is a stunning miscalculation. A disjointed affair without a heart, a purpose or even a satisfactory conclusion, the film sits in place even when it's in motion. The stunts and camerawork are impressive, but they surround a motion picture that is akin to a barren vessel. Nasty flourishes, such as a rabbit who is gunned down and explodes from the impact, are simply off-putting. Before writer-director Neil Marshall tackles his next film, it would be beneficial for him to revisit his previous filmmaking excursions and figure out what made 2002's "Dog Soldiers" and 2006's "The Descent
" such successes and what made "Doomsday" a total wash. This is not the career trajectory he should want to have.