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A Surprisingly Enjoyable Videogame Adaptation

Directed by longtime cinematographer turned genre director Andrzej Bartkowiak (Cradle 2 the Grave, Exit Wounds, Romeo Must Die) from a screenplay by Dave Callaham and Wesley Strick, Doom is a videogame-to-film adaptation that, despite numerous story and production shortcomings, still manages to work as modest, B-level, escapist entertainment. Genre fans hungry for a graphic horror will be happy to learn that Doom's action sequences are gratuitously violent, bloody, and gory (it earned a well-deserved "R" rating from the MPAA). Doom, however, offers little for non-genre (or non-videogame) viewers, outside of one unexpected plot turn.

Mars. A super secret, corporate-run, research facility (apparently protected by the government). A scientific experiment gone awry results in a level-5 quarantine (as opposed to a level 3 or 4). Six research scientists have disappeared, presumed injured or dead. Enter the Rapid Response Tactical Squad, a select, if generic, group of Marines led by the tough but compassionate Sarge (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson). The Sarge's multi-racial team includes the Reaper (Karl Urban), a Marine with a tragic family history, Destroyer (Deobia Oparei), a glowering, African-American, Goat (Ben Daniels), a religiously minded soldier, Duke (Razaaq Adoti), another African-American member of the team, Portman (Richard Brake), a pervert with bad teeth and greasy hair, the Kid (Al Weaver), a raw recruit on his first mission, and Mac (Yao Chin), the silent member of the squad.

After using the Ark, essentially a teleportation portal between Earth and Mars (an off screen female voice helpfully informs us that the portal was built by ancient Martians), the squad arrives to secure the research facility. First, though, the squad gets assistance in the form of a research scientist, Samantha Grimm (Rosamund Pike). From there, the squad fans out on their search and rescue mission. Predictable plot turns follow, with the members of the squad first separated and then dispatched by the hypertrophied, mutant monsters, often in explicit, gruesomely inventive ways.

Growing discord within the squad, however, leads to a serious breakdown of unit cohesion, with the weakened squad becoming easier prey for the mutant monsters. It's here, in the scenes of dissension and conflict between the characters, that Doom takes an unexpected, welcome (and dark) turn, adding a layer of complexity to the characters and the conflicts missing from other recent, similarly plotted genre entries (e.g., The Cave). Alas, it's the only major surprise Doom has to offer, but at least it's one more than found .

Bartkowiak, of course, never forgets that Doom is, in fact, a videogame adaptation, and makes sure to include multiple nods to the game, including the heavyweight weapons the characters use, and later in the film, a switch into first-person player mode, with the hero's weapons floating in front of the film (and yes, a chainsaw makes an appearance). Videogame fans will be disappointed to learn that the first-person player mode makes only a single, late appearance in Doom before settling back into third-person mode for the climactic fight scene between the hero and his snarling nemesis.

To dissect Doom's flaws seems almost superfluous. Serious film fans aren't likely to have much interest in seeing Doom. Videogame fans will see Doom to re-experience the long-familiar rush from playing the videogame. Fans of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson will be likewise unconcerned by Doom's multiple shortcomings. Less discriminating of science fiction/horror/action films (or anyone who's seen Aliens, Predatorp, or Pitch Black will generously look past Doom's derivative, linear storyline, stock, disposable characters, and sub-literate dialogue. All three groups will probably find little fault in the uninspired production design (Doom's producers cleverly redress the same set for Earth and Mars) or underlit cinematography that helps to hide the limited budget. Even the teleportation portal is a money saver, since the producers didn't have to expend valuable resources showing space travel.

Those viewers expecting an action-oriented storyline, heavy on outrageous gore and over-the-top violence, won't be disappointed by Doom, and might even find themselves pleasantly surprised by the unexpected plot turn that adds a layer of complexity to an otherwise generic, familiar storyline. Plus, some viewers will be delighted by the opening shot, a starry sky, followed by a pan down to the Universal logo (usually seen circling the Earth) circling Mars. It's one of several pluses that makes Doom a guilty pleasure.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars