Doomsday (United Kingdom, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Take Mad Max, add elements of Escape from New York and I am Legend, insert a kick-ass heroine to rival Sigourney Weaver or Linda Hamilton, and employ strobe-like editing for the action sequences, and you have a fair approximation of Doomsday. Derivate to a degree that's distracting, this movie gleefully pilfers from just about every apocalyptic motion picture made in the last 10-15 years. In fact, Doomsday tries to cram so much into its limited 105 minutes that aspects end up feeling rushed and confused (especially the political situation in England) and the ending is perfunctory. There's certainly enough material here to pursue in a sequel but it's hard to imagine anyone liking the film enough to demand a return installment.

Neil Marshall's previous feature, The Descent, was as effective a horror film as has come around in the last few years. But success in one genre doesn't necessarily translate to success in another. The Descent wasn't original but it worked because of expert execution. Doomsday, on the other hand, stumbles; the production is a mess. The action sequences might be more tense if they weren't obfuscated by rapid-fire editing, and the backstory is muddled and not all that interesting. It's another variation on the idea that the world's population is endangered by an incurable virus. It takes about five minutes of Malcolm McDowell's voiceover narrative to set up Doomsday. It's interesting to note how popular this kind of end-of-the-world scenario has become in recent years. Of course, movies have always been obsessed with Armageddon. At one time, it was thought it would result from space aliens, then it was nuclear obliteration, and now it's diseases. In another 20 years, if the feared end has not already arrived, it will likely be something else.

The background for Doomsday explains that Scotland has been quarantined due to the outbreak of a malicious virus that swept through the populace like the common cold. Now, 27 years after the epidemic, groups of survivors are marauding through the streets of Glasgow and the virus has surfaced in London. The British P.M., John Hatcher (Alexander Siddig), and his ruthless chief advisor, Michael Canaris (David O'Hara), have decided to send a covert team into Scotland to search for a cure. On the recommendation of Chief of Police Bill Nelson (Bob Hoskins), Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) is assigned to head the team. She's a no-nonsense cop who was evacuated from Scotland as a child. Sinclair is told to seek out a scientist named Kane (Malcolm McDowell), who is the most likely survivor to possess the cure. Once within the containment zone, however, she finds that such a task will not be easily accomplished. There are two barbaric factions at war - one led by Kane and the other by his son, Sol (Craig Conway) - and both want Sinclair and her compatriots dead.

Where the movie stumbles most egregiously is in its attempts to develop parallel storylines in Scotland and England. It's too much for one movie and blurs the eventual payoff. Are we supposed to be rooting for Sinclair to find the cure and escape safely before her 48-hour window expires? Or are we supposed to be concerned with the schemes of a power-mad megalomaniac to take over England? The way in which everything is wrapped up, which involves about five minutes of short scenes, could generously be considered unsatisfying. Doomsday is at its best when concentrating on fight scenes. There are some good ones - or ones that could have been good if the editing didn't threaten to bring on a seizure. Sinclair's epic gladiatorial battle is the most memorable of these. The car chases are largely copies of similar ones from the Mad Max movies (as are many of the hairstyles and the general environment).

Rhona Mitra, best known for her recurring role in The Practice and its spin-off, Boston Legal, has buffed up to play Sinclair. Marshall clearly intends for her to join Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton in the elite group of female action heroes. In actuality, she comes closer to Kate Beckinsale in the Underworld movies - still impressive but not top tier. It takes both a great physique and a great script to be remembered. Mitra has only the former. Meanwhile, Malcolm McDowell continues to prove that he has no standards with respect to what he'll appear in, although viewers have known that since he signed to re-create Sam Loomis under Rob Zombie.

Doomsday typifies the kind of movie that gets dumped into theaters during the late winter - a regurgitated storyline, no big stars, and no real prospects at the box office. It's no better or worse than a half-dozen similar motion pictures to arrive in multiplexes this year. The niche it fills isn't a large one and the movie isn't sufficiently compelling to encourage those who are not fans of zombie-free apocalypse stories to see this one. In the end, Doomsday feels more like the outline of a computer game than a fully developed motion picture.

Doomsday (United Kingdom, 2008)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2008-03-14
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1