The new British movie “Doomsday,” from “The Descent” writer-director Neil Marshall, is what my old college chum and fellow film critic Curt Holman would call a five-star two-and-a-half-star movie. It’s ridiculous, derivative, confusingly edited and laden with gore, but it’s the kind of over-the-top grindhouse epic that wears down your defenses and eventually makes you just go with it.
My tipping point happened during the big car chase, in which our hero Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra, a black-tanktopped British tough chick of the Kate Beckinsale-Lena Headey school) fends off a mob of mohawked “Mad Max” wannabes with a snazzy Bentley while Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes” blares on the soundtrack. (Bentleys haven’t been this sexy on-screen since “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”; whatever the auto maker paid for product placement was worth it.)
Trying to resist the blood-soaked, over-the-top charms of “Doomsday” is like trying not to laugh at the Marx Bros.; unless you’re Margaret Dumont, you’ll eventually succumb.
Following movies like “28 Days Later” and “I Am Legend” in the current vogue of AIDS/SARS scare cinema, “Doomsday” begins in April 2008, when the “reaper virus” is rampaging its way through Scotland. Taking a page from Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death,” Great Britain decides containment is the answer, and walls off the entire country. One little girl escapes on a helicopter, and she grows up to be Eden, one of the toughest members of the Division for Domestic Security in 2035, when the virus pops up in London.
While most people thought that everyone in Scotland had died, satellite photos show that there are still survivors there, reduced to barbarism and even cannibalism. The government (whose prime minister is, I kid you not, “Hatcher”) sends Eden in with a squad of soldiers to find the doctor who had been working on the cure to the virus. In true “Escape from New York” style, they’ve got 48 hours to go in and bring him out.
That proves to be tricky, what with the marauding gangs of punks who look like refugees from every Italian low-budget post-apocalypse movie of the 1980s. Those Glasgow rude boys aren’t just out to kill the interlopers; they’re also at war with another faction of survivors up country, who are living in an ancient castle and behaving like it’s medieval times. (Or maybe Medieval Times, the chain restaurant. While the castle is filled with peasants and knights, it also still bears the “Gift Shop” and “Emergency Exit” signs from when it was a national park.)
Marshall drew acclaim for his restraint and suspense in “The Descent,” and he’s decided to chuck both out the window for slam-bang action, baffling fight sequences edited in a blender, and jeroboams of fake blood. This is the kind of movie where every beheading, gunshot wound and maiming takes place front and center so we can all get a good look. He even throws in a rabbit that gets blown up and a calf that gets run over lest his (or our) bloodlust not be slaked.
Mitra’s character would be a more memorable fierce chick if “Doomsday” weren’t so silly, and supporting actors Bob Hoskins and Adrian Lester do their best to pretend they’re in a real movie.
I can’t support or defend “Doomsday” in the slightest. But it’s also the most fun I’ve had at the movies in weeks. If you’re in the mood for sheer sensation without the slightest bit of intelligence, this is the flick for you.