[Screen It]

(2005) (The Rock, Karl Urban) (R)

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Sci-fi: After heading to Mars to investigate some deadly occurrences there, a small squad of Marines tries to rescue some workers from mutant monsters that they must kill to prevent them from returning to Earth.
Twenty years after a portal was found on Earth that leads to near instantaneous travel to Mars, a group of scientists and others -- such as Dr. Carmack (ROBERT RUSSELL) and Samantha Grimm (ROSAMUND PIKE) among others -- work on the red planet, hoping to find out who or what built the portal and what happened to them.

Then something goes terribly wrong, with various people there being killed by various monsters. With the Olduvai Research Station in lockdown, the Marines of the Rapid Response Tactical Squad back on Earth are called to duty. Led by Sarge (THE ROCK), the small squad consists of John Grimm (KARL URBAN), Samantha's long-estranged brother; Duke (RAZ ADOTI) who ends up sweet on her; religious Goat (BEN DANIELS); Asian Mac (YAO CHIN); tough guy Destroyer (DeOBIA OPAREI); rookie The Kid (AL WEAVER) and the slimy Portman (RICHARD BRAKE).

Upon arriving, they tell wheelchair-bound Pinky (DEXTER FLETCHER) to watch the door, and then enter the station where they meet Samantha and a number of other survivors. As she races to continue her research work that's at the point of a major breakthrough, the Marines set out on a search and rescue mission. Yet, when they encounter various mutant monsters with super-human strength, their objective changes to that of kill or be killed. From that point on, they do what they must to stay alive and keep the monsters from returning to Earth via the portal.

OUR TAKE: 2.5 out of 10
Considering that sales of video games now out gross theatrical movie releases, and that most of those playing such games are the demographic the studios are also trying to reach, I can understand why Hollywood remains fixated on such entertainment as fodder for their films. What I can't fathom is why they continue to make such bad pictures based on them or how they can continue to appear oblivious to the obvious difference between the two mediums.

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- movies are passive experiences while games are interactive. Yes, you can be emotionally involved in a movie, but aside from a few novelty DVDs, you don't control what happens as that's a predetermined element. While one could argue the latter also holds true for such games (in terms of there being a finite amount of possibilities and combinations of play), they're definitely addictively immersive, providing a player controlled, you are there experience.

And one of the earliest ones that excelled at just that was Doom, a game that took the first person shooter aspect (where the player proceeds through the game from their character's point of view, thus making the action and encounters seem more "realistic") to new, exciting heights. Considering it was released way back in 1993, it's surprising that it took Hollywood so long to adapt it for the big screen. Having just seen the results of the film of the same name, perhaps they should have waited a bit -- okay, a lot -- longer.

Fans of the game may disagree (although even they may balk at changes made to the scenario, characters and monsters), but there's simply nothing here to recommend. The so-called plot -- penned by David Callaham (making his debut) and Wesley Strick ("The Glass House," "Cape Fear") -- is about as bare-bones as they come. The characters are barely personified, the monsters and other effects look fake and -- worse yet -- the direction is mediocre at best and any sort of building action momentum is non-existent.

Simply put, this is yet another entry in a long line of films that rips off "Aliens," James Cameron's superb flick about people trying to avoid the title elements on a far away planet in claustrophobic settings. Director Andrzej Bartkowiak -- who previously helmed "Cradle 2 the Grave" and "Exit Wounds" -- isn't anywhere near "The King of the World" when it comes to creating, building and maintaining action, horror and sci-fi suspense.

The only time the film works is near the end when Bartkowiak decides to take the viewer into the game-based movie, providing a POV shot of one of the few survivors as he proceeds through the station, blasting, chain sawing and otherwise killing monsters, zombies and more. While not exactly the same as actually playing the game, it's about as close as you can get without picking up a joystick. Nevertheless, it's hampered by the viewer still being passive rather than active in what's occurring.

The rest of the film is just one repetitive scene after another of characters slowly making their way though darkened (and occasionally light) corridors, sewers and such, all with their weapons and flashlights drawn. I'm assuming the appeal is supposed to be not knowing what or when something will jump out and attack them, but if you've seen "Aliens" or the many others of its ilk that have been released in the past twenty years, then you've pretty much seen this one.

The screenplay offers a meager subplot regarding one of the characters -- played by Karl Urban ("The Bourne Supremacy," the "Lord of the Rings" films) -- being affected from reuniting with his long estranged sister -- embodied by Rosamund Pike ("Pride & Prejudice," "Die Another Day") and some apparent tragedy from their past that's never fully explained or explored. Alas, it doesn't do anything for the film -- which also holds true for revelations about chromosomal tampering and the resultant, mutant monstrous mess -- other than make it seem longer than it already is.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson ("Be Cool," "Walking Tall") plays what's ostensibly the lead character (although he isn't credited that way), the no-nonsense Marine sergeant who leads their search and rescue/destroy mission. While physically correct for the part that might have been played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the past, Johnson does it far too straight, without any Arnie one-liners or sense of camp that the film so desperately needs.

The rest of the cast members are pretty much interchangeable, instantly forgettable and present solely as ingredients for the giant cinematic meat grinder in which they find themselves. Barely personified, they lack the ability of making us care about them, a plight shared by the rest of the characters and overall film.

There's really nothing else to be said about this offering that puts little to no effort into actually telling a story. If you really want to see people blasting away at monsters when not otherwise being killed by them, I'd suggest pulling up a chair, picking up the latest related video game, and downing some motion-sickness medication (all of the screen movement coupled with the participant being stationary will do in some players' brains and stomachs as easily as a boat tossed on the open sea).

If you're looking for something less prone to inducing motion sickness, I'd suggest "Aliens" or something like the original "Predator," two superlative action monster flicks that benefit from engaging stories and directors at the top of their game. Destined to join a growing group of bland, boring and poorly crafted, big-screen video game adaptations, "Doom" rates as a 2.5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 18, 2005 / Posted October 21, 2005

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