Doomed Movie Review
Written by Eric Strauss
DVD released by Maverick Entertainment
Directed by Michael Su
Written by Sean O'Bannon and Patrick McManus
2007, Region 1, 76 minutes, Not rated
Drew Russel as Conrad
Kara Schaaf as Kyra
Ward Roberts as Boyle
Sarah Diaz as Leigh
and Steven Cryen as Reese
I've often said that the only reality television series I watch is "The Contender," but if "American Idol" ended with two participants beating the crap out of each other, I'd watch it, too.
Doomed, a survival horror film based on the reality-TV craze, opens with two participants beating the crap out of each other, and only gets better from there.
In Doomed's vision of the future, the hottest show on the air is "Survival Island 2020," a version of "Survivor" taken to the extreme.
Ten volunteer criminals serving major-league sentences are offered a chance at redemption and reward, live on camera. Paired up in teams, all two participants have to do to win pardons is get to the other side of a deserted island, where they'll find a weekly cash prize of $5 million has grown to $50 million — because nobody's ever won.
They don't know each other, and they certainly don't know all the rules.
Otherwise, they might have seen the zombies coming.
On the surface, at least, director Michael Su and writers Sean O'Bannon and Patrick McManus make sure Doomed follows the reality-TV formula to the letter, complete with cheesy on-screen graphics, frenetic chase cams and point scoring for good fighting.
Of course, following the reality-TV formula means sticking to some of the reality-TV clichés: The smarmy host, the unexpected alliances, the in-fighting among teams, the mix of personality archetypes — the ex-Marine, the street thug, the tough girl, the scaredy-cat and so forth. And then there's the great big question of trust.
On the downside, following the B-movie formula means sticking to some of the B-movie drawbacks, including sometimes-iffy zombie makeup and a tendency to go light on the gore.
Plus, as might be expected, the actors playing those archetypes can get a little wooden in their delivery at times, but they're not so bad as to be distracting. Steven Cryen (Reese, the rock-solid soldier) and Sarah Diaz (Leigh, the killer nurse) give the film a good center — and in Diaz's case, a great-looking one, too.
And as Drew Russel (Conrad, the loner) and Kara Schaaf (Kyra, who goes from catatonic to competitive) get more screen time, they add more notes to their roles. Aaron Gaffey (Wes, the computer nerd) and M.C. Brown (Sybil, the street-tough hooker) probably last the longest as a true team, and they have good chemistry together. Ward Roberts (Boyle, the conniver) grates, but every reality show has its jackass, right?
Say this, though: Su hides a lot of flaws with jump cuts and other hyper-stylized editing — sometimes a little too wild for its own good — and the combat choreography can be downright spectacular.
The hallmark of shows like "Survivor" and "The Apprentice" is that the only thing viewers can expect is the unexpected. Good players don't last, and bad players do. In fact, you may be shocked at the last players standing — something "American Idol" fans know all about.
At less than 80 minutes long, Doomed does feel rushed in its second half, as too many players fall too close to a climax that arrives fairly rapidly compared with the film's nicely paced setup — and then underwhelms slightly when it gets there.
Pity. Stretch Doomed out with 20 more minutes of tension and combat, it might have been perfect. But unlike some of the moves Su's characters make, the pacing doesn't prove to be a fatal mistake.
Thank goodness. Because from contestant-introducing opening to preview-of-next-week's-show credits, Doomed is still a darn good film.
Good enough to be a survivor in the cutthroat game of low-budget horror.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Audio/video and special features will not be graded, as this is a screener disc.
Many films have taken advantage of the "reality" concept, including Battle Royale and $la$her$ — which, like Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Running Man, predated the real top-of-the-Nielsens craze.
Doomed may not have the foresight — or budget — of those films, but it is a worthy and enjoyable part of that fine tradition.
(Weapons of Choice: Mitsubishi 1080 series 42" TV, Sony DVP-CX995V DVD player, Bose Lifestyle 25 Series II speakers, Apple iBook G4 and, in certain situations, Panasonic 27" TV, Panasonic A110 DVD player and Bose TriPort headphones.)