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Too bad you can't hit the 'quit' button with 'Doom'

The man-eating beasts and motley characters who battle with them just make a mess in this film adapted from the popular video game.

October 21, 2005|Gene Seymour | Newsday

The jaded palate approaches "Doom" with little to hope for except quick and dirty ingestion. No problem. Imagine all four "Alien" movies compacted, boiled in chicken fat and then pumped with steroids. Imagine the rush. Imagine the peril to a weak metabolism.

But such peril would presume empathy or involvement with the characters on the screen. And "Doom," adapted from one of the more popular and savage video games, shows less human dimension than the new Wallace and Gromit movie.

To give narrative grounding to the game, "Doom's" producers create a motley seven-man commando squad led by a hard-case sergeant named (really, what are the odds?) Sarge (Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson). Their mission involves going to an ancient portal leading directly to Mars, where something unknown and, quite likely, unspeakable has laid waste to a team of genetic scientists.

Just another search-and-destroy mission, Sarge thinks. Nothing his guys haven't seen and survived before. But there are huge, crusty beasts prowling the blood-caked corridors of the Martian laboratory. One by one, the strike force gets mangled, chewed and all but spit out by these things.

Sarge, of course, is curious to know what's killing everybody off.

The standard-issue comely blond scientist (Rosamund Pike) thinks it has something to do with a "24th chromosome." (Did you know humans have 22? I guess I slept through that biology class.) Somehow, this chromosome was uncovered on Mars and, through the kind of reckless experimentation that leads to mass hysteria and cheesy dialogue, has mutated humans into super-powered maniacs capable of surviving anything, even death.

Director Andrzej Bartkowiak is well-practiced in handling combustible, ludicrous pulp (see 2000's "Romeo Must Die" or 2001's "Exit Wounds"). But there was a visual crispness in those bumptious thrillers that's AWOL in "Doom." Johnson, who has shown ingratiating charm and ease of manner even in such unlikely movies as last year's "Walking Tall," is more slug than "Rock" here.

Not that qualities such as "acting" count for much in this context. All gamers want to know about "Doom" is when it starts running amok. It takes a while.

But when the vaunted "First Person Shooter" perspective kicks in, "Doom" shakes itself loose of its ponderous moorings and takes giddy flight. The serial carnage even takes on a satiric edge with blackout references to such horror touchstones as "Tales From the Crypt" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

It may be that video-game movies work best when they behave like video games. Which shouldn't necessarily be taken as an endorsement of more movies like "Doom."



MPAA rating: R for strong violence/gore and language.

Times guidelines: Vulgarities, really scary things.

Released by Universal Pictures. Director Andrzej Bartkowiak. Producers Lorenzo di Bonaventura, John Wells. Executive producer John D. Schofield. Screenplay by David Callaham and Wesley Strick, story by Callaham, based on the video game by id Software. Director of photography Tony Pierce-Roberts. Editor Derek G. Brechin. Costume designer Carlo Poggioli. Music Clint Mansell. Production designer Stephen Scott. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

In general release.

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