The Devil's Tomb

Director: Jason Connery   
Cuba Gooding Jr., Ray Winstone, Ron Perlman

In a few of my past reviews, I have talked about fears, namely fears that belong into the realm of the supernatural. You know, stuff like ghosts, ghouls, vampires, zombies, and other things that go bump in the night and have caused more than one person to be afraid of them while they were growing up. I have also mentioned in my past reviews that when I was growing up, I didn't have a fear of such monsters, namely because a combination of my scientific mind and all my reading of books convinced me that such creatures did not exist. If they did, there would surely be a lot of non-fiction material covering these creatures, wouldn't there? Actually, when I come to think about it, there is plenty of supposed non-fiction material that has been written about a certain kind of supernatural creature. Just go to your local Christian book store, and I'm sure you'll find plenty of books about demons or the Devil. Yet with all of this "proof" freely available, I am not convinced that demons or the Devil actually exist, at least in the way that the Bible or most Christians portray them. Just take a look at what these sources say. They claim that the Devil and demons are fallen angels, and as they are angry at God, they are determined to harass mankind and make it miserable. They like to con mankind and throw him into the flames of Hell. But that doesn't make much sense. If they are angry at God, why not get back at Him by making Hell an attractive place for mankind? Why not promise - and keep the promise - of an appealing afterlife if mankind will follow the Devil and his philosophy? I'm sure there are plenty of people tired of God's rigid rules who would be attracted to this different attitude of the Devil.

I'll now leave the subject of fallen angels in order to go to my next introductory subject, though one that also happens to be able to be labeled as "fallen" as well. This new subject is fallen movie stars. In my past reviews, I have analyzed the careers of various fallen stars such as Steven Seagal, Burt Reynolds, and Sylvester Stallone. Now I get to my next has-been, one I have been meaning to spotlight for some time, given that the majority of the movies he's been making lately can be considered unknown movies. That star is Cuba Gooding Jr. To put it bluntly, what the hell happened to his career? For a while he seemed to be building his career more and more with every passing year. First he started with television (I remember seeing him on several episodes of MacGyver), then all of a sudden he was entering theatrical movies like Boyz In The Hood and A Few Good Men - and these were pretty substantial parts, so he must have really impressed the casting agents. The parts and movies kept building, and he peaked with his appearance in Jerry Maguire, which won him an Oscar. It seemed he was going to be a major talent for years to come. But almost immediately afterwards, his career slowly started to slide down. Believe it or not, he did a couple of made-for-video movies during the next two years. And during those two years, and the next few years after that, his theatrical project choices were largely questionable. Instinct? Chill Factor? Snow Dogs? Boat Trip? A few years later, all these turkeys resulted in calls from major studios almost completely stopping, and today, except for the occasional theatrical movie like Red Tails, he works exclusively in made-for-video movies.

Maybe I am being a little too hard on Gooding - most projects proposed to actors tend to be awful, and it can be hard at times for any actor to find good projects. But I have seen Instinct, Chill Factor, Snow Dogs, and Boat Trip, and they were all awful enough that I was glad I The Devil's Tombdidn't pay a penny to see any of them. And as for his recent, mostly straight-to-video movies, I have seen just about all of them, and only two of them had some merit to them. First, there was Hero Wanted. I was kind of surprised by this movie. While I didn't think that it overall worked, it was definitely a lot more ambitious than a number of other movies (straight-to-video or otherwise), and it had some genuine merit, like its incredible opening shot. And then there was Wrong Turn At Tahoe, which was actually a pretty decent crime drama, with Gooding giving a fairly good performance. That last movie interested me enough to decide that I would give Gooding another chance, to see if there was any additional evidence that he was currently trying to pick projects of merit that might push him to the "A" list again. That's one reason why I rented The Devil's Tomb. There were other reasons why I rented it, not only to see if the demonic forces in this movie were as unbelievable to me as those I've seen described and depicted in other works. Another reason why I rented the movie was that the actor son of Sean Connery - Jason Connery - directed the movie, and I wanted to see if he had learned anything about direction in his years of acting. One smaller reason why I rented the movie was to see if the filmmakers would make the mistake people like Groucho Marx have made when it came with tombs. Groucho on his game show would keep saying, "Who is buried in Grant's tomb?" and get various wacky answers to what was supposed to be an easy question. (By the way, people are not buried in tombs - they are instead entombed.)

Anyway, I'll now get on with describing the plot for The Devil's Tomb - though to be honest, I am wondering if it is necessary to describe the entire setup. I am very confident most, if not all the people reading this will be able to guess the entire setup before they finish reading it, and will be able to more or less guess how the rest of the movie will play out. But just in case there are some readers who have led sheltered lives, here's the plot. Somewhere in the Middle East (I think it's in Iraq), an isolated research station has been hit by an earthquake, and communication with it and its lead scientist (played by Perlman) has been cut off. Dr. Elissa Cardell (Valerie Cruz), the C.I.A. daughter of Wesley, arranges with Mack (Gooding) and his band of mercenaries to fly to the research station and rescue Wesley. But when they get there, they soon discover that there is a danger they haven't been trained for and one by one their numbers are reduced and... must I go on? This basic plot of warriors fighting a new kind of terror and being picked off one by one has been used many times before. I've covered this plot on this web site when I reviewed Bats: Human Harvest as well as Dracula 3000 some time ago. But as I've said before, it's not the plot that counts, it's the execution of the plot that makes or breaks the movie. I was open to seeing this basic plot again, though I was also hoping that they would get it right this time. Did they get it right? Well, I will admit that there were some things I liked in this version. I liked the fact that there was an attempt to add diversity to the cast. The mercenary team has a high percentage of minorities, including two African-Americans, an Asian, and a Hispanic.

Another thing about the mercenary team that was a pleasant surprise was the female aspect. In a movie like this, you get one token female at best. But in this movie, including the character played by Cruz, there are three females on the team. As for the performances of this diverse group, I ended up admiring the performance of Brandon Fobbs as "Click", the team's computer hacker. He injects his character with a likeability that never seems forced, and any scene his character gets to speak is livened up considerably. There were a few other things I liked about The Devil's Tomb. Although there are some CGI effects in the movie, they are primarily kept for small effects shots, so they never seem big and phony to the eye. (Most of the effects come from the still-dependable art of makeup.) I also admit that I enjoyed how the movie managed to add one scene of gratuitous female nudity, despite taking place in the middle of nowhere during a high-priority mission, as well as some lesbian smooching and fondling, the kind of stuff which never gets old. All of the above is what's good about this movie. You probably got one good clue as to how the movie goes wrong with my mentioning of just one actor who is worthy of praise. So my revelation that Gooding is pretty horrible should come as no surprise. He is simply not convincing as a hard-line soldier. Sure, he had his hair buzz cut, and the makeup department added a scar to his face, but this does no good when he lamely barks orders and acts tough. Like in many of his other films, he comes across as "nice", deadly in a movie like this. The rest of the cast is simply forgettable, including Perlman and ex-Black Flag vocalist Henry Rollins, especially since they have less screen time than you'd think despite their key roles.

The movie also suffers from low production values. My research uncovered that the budget of the movie was around ten million dollars, but upon seeing the movie you would probably wonder along with me where all that money went to, especially since Gooding doesn't seem to command as high a salary these days as he did years ago. Mack and his mercenaries don't have a real base of operations, they are introduced and briefed on their mission in the middle of the desert with only a helicopter and a truck in sight. When they get to the research station, it only has one entrance (and it's manhole-sized - how did the scientists get all their supplies down there?), and the interiors are by and large not that much more lavish than you'd find in a Roger Corman movie. The movie might have still been able to work with a steady hand behind the camera. Director Connery seems to have thought so, since when a character early on says, "I know the perfect person," immediately afterwards the credit "DIRECTED BY JASON CONNERY" pops onscreen. While I haven't seen any of Connery's acting credits to see if he's good at acting, by the evidence of this movie he doesn't seem that talented in directing. Haven't we seen enough times images briefly flashing onscreen with the hiss of static in the background? Or creepy silhouettes quickly running across the screen inches from the camera? Even when he has something more fresh, Connery beats it to death (demon-possessed people barf acid into faces more than once.) Unoriginality is one of Connery's sins, but the biggest has to be that his movie is not the least bit scary or tense, and not much better when it comes to delivering action. The movie moves very slowly, and the sporadic grave and horrific situations all have a matter-of-fact feeling to them. The mercenaries for the most part seem as bored and uninterested about their dwindling numbers as I was. Those of you who haven't been numbed by this formulaic plot as this movie finally did to me, and want to see it again, I suggest you rewatch Aliens instead.

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See also: Bats: Human Harvest, The Devil's Rain, Dracula 3000