When a remote research facility on Mars sends a distress signal back to Earth, a team of Marines are sent in to help, including the troubled Reaper (nicely played by Karl Urban), and led by the intolerant Sarge (The Rock, sweaty and exaggerated). Upon arrival, the team learns that mutated monsters have taken over the area, with the beasts picking off members of the squad one by one. With the help of a lone scientist (Rosamund Pike, a talented actress doing a ghastly American accent), Sarge and his group look to contain the problem and, if that fails them, kill anything that stands in their way.
Turning video games into movies is a large artistic leap few have landed successfully. Inherently razor-thin experiences, video games need that special touch, that unique verve, to deliver the special joystick enchantment. Director Andrzej Bartowiak is not a filmmaker capable of such magic.
A former cinematographer of the highest order ("Speed," "Falling Down"), Bartowiak has stumbled in his directorial efforts, helming not one, not two, but three DMX-starring action films ("Exit Wounds," "Cradle 2 the Grave," and "Romeo Must Die"), all of which were frightfully awful. Finding himself always directing brawny, testosterone-laden epics, Bartowiak has yet to prove himself capable of making anything other than complete junk. "Doom" (IMDb listing) is suited to his sensibilities since it measures high on the blood-n-guns meter, and features a mostly male cast of monosyllabic brutes. It comes as no surprise that the director blunders the material badly, if you can even call it material to begin with.
"Doom" is adapted from a popular first-person-shooter (FPS) video game of the 1990s, which featured large helpings of bullets, gore, and wisecracking marines. It's not exactly Pinter, but "Doom" does feature the type of groundwork that could eventually make a fun, pulpy, wide-eyed science-fiction actioner. Bartowiak's "Doom" is the opposite of fun, turning the sprightly video game into a horribly lit, carelessly framed, and poorly acted mess. Another similar property, 2002's "Resident Evil," contained comparable ingredients and was inundated with complete incompetence, but it managed to become a goofy genre blast. "Doom" doesn't. The film is just bad, partially because it refuses to seek out any sense of excitement, but mainly because it has a director who has absolutely no clue as to what he's doing with any given frame of this movie.
While I applaud the limited use of CGI in "Doom," the inability to physically see anything of value negates the achievement. Everything in the film is lit so darkly, it's as if the film was set in a stoner's bedroom on a smoky Saturday night. The monsters, the very centerpiece of the franchise, are mere shadows on the wall, only breaking free to murkily grab a character and pull them out of frame. Bartowiak doesn't let his audience view much, insisting on claustrophobic, overused close-ups of every actor (especially The Rock), and jumbled editing to maintain the guy-in-a-rubber-suit magic. The screenwriters also do their part to ruin the experience by handing the most cliched marine dialog to anyone willing to speak it, which promises all sorts of macho butt kicking, but seldom delivers.
In fact, the only inspired bit of business in "Doom" is the one sequence that defeats the purpose of making a feature film in the first place. Bartowiak stages a five minute FPS sequence toward the end of the movie, with Reaper fighting his way through the lab's hallways, shooting through zombies, blowing up monsters, and chain-sawing beasties. Meant to jolt the fans of the game awake with a direct homage, it does successfully achieve some much needed carnage, but it also stops the movie dead, and should remind the viewer (yet again) that playing the actual game is much more fun than seeing a terrible movie version of it.
Filmfodder Grade: D