In almost 100 years of history, Hollywood has rarely produced a series of films as consistent as those based on video games: A dozen of them now, and not one has been any good. Not one! (Don’t bother naming one and saying, “What about that one?!,” because the answer is no; it sucked.)
The latest is “Doom,” a loud and bloody big-screen adaptation of the game that popularized the “first-person shooter” genre, where the action is seen through the player’s eyes rather than from an omniscient perspective. In homage to its roots, “Doom” the movie has a few minutes of first-person killing near the end, the camera acting as a character’s eyes as he goes around shooting everything — but since we can’t control him like we can at home, the effect is like watching passively while someone else plays a video game. And where’s the fun in that?
Nowhere, that’s where. In fact, what fun there is in “Doom” is only at the film’s expense, laughing at its flimsy story and its goofy pseudo-scientific dialogue. (“Ten percent of the human genome is still unmapped,” says a scientist. “Some say it’s the blueprint for the soul.” Heavy, man.)
The deal is that 40 years hence, a scientific research laboratory on Mars has been besieged by mysterious and sinister forces. A team of U.S. Marines back here in the good ol’ U.S. of Earth is sent to rescue the six doctors and scientists, but when they arrive they find: MONSTERS! Vicious beasts the size of very large humans with oversized, agile tongues! What’s a team of Marines to do but find giant guns and fire them repeatedly?
The bulk of the film is set in the dimly lit cement-gray and steel-black corridors of the Mars lab, a reminder of the “Alien” films, which used silent, claustrophobic settings like these to create fear. “Doom” uses them to create violence. Mistaking fear and violence for each other is a common error among incompetent filmmakers. (In this case it is Andrzej Bartkowiak, whose senseless but stylish action flicks “Romeo Must Die” and “Cradle 2 the Grave” hardly suggested how crappy “Doom” would turn out.)
Oh right, the characters. I forgot there were characters. Well, there’s Pretty Scientist (Rosamund Pike), whose bickersome brother (Karl Urban) is among the Marines sent to rescue her team. There’s the Young Recruit (Al Weaver) who is eager and idealistic and will surely die on this, his first mission. There’s the slimy and perverted Horndog Marine (Richard Brake). And then there are several others with no distinguishing characteristics except, in some cases, their race.
And then there’s The Rock (aka Dwayne Johnson), who plays the Marine squad leader. The Rock has pleasantly surprised a lot of people with his acting, which has often been entertaining and even laudable. Those of us who didn’t like having to respect him as an actor, who don’t like taking men seriously who are professional wrestlers and don’t have real names — we breathe a sigh of relief with “Doom,” where The Rock at last lives up to his potential as a hilariously bad actor.
Do this with me. Make your eyes really big and angry, exaggeratedly so, like a cartoon. Then over-enunciate every word as you loudly bark an order to an inferior. (Try: “I need copies of this report NOW!” or “I want you to take out the trash!”) That’s The Rock. Remember Jack Nicholson’s delivery on “You can’t handle the truth!” in “A Few Good Men”? That’s The Rock on every single line in “Doom.”
The screenplay, by David Callaham and Wesley Strick (“Arachnophobia,” “The Saint”), is strictly serviceable, nothing fancy. Yet it has curiously long stretches where it tries to BE fancy, eschewing shoot-em-up shenanigans so it can ramble on and on about the “science” behind the monsters. That’s a fine thing to do if you’ve got creative ideas and good actors to convey them, but when you’re bankrupt in both categories, maybe it’s best to shut up and get back to shooting. At least that has a certain visceral thrill, for a few minutes, anyway.
D (1 hr., 40 min.; )