There is something about Cuba Gooding Jr. that just gets on my last nerve. Maybe it's the shameless way he prances around and hams it up in insipid comedies. Or maybe it's the way he strikes that stoic, misty-eyed pose in ham-fisted melodramas. Whatever it is, there is something about Gooding that really bothers me, and with the exception of maybe two films, I've never seen him in anything where I liked his acting. But no matter how much I may not like his acting--and I really don't like his acting--the one "positive" thing I can say about Gooding is that he puts something into every performance (crappy though it may be). At least that was the one thing I could say until I saw The Devil's Tomb, in which Gooding appears to put so little effort into his "performance" that it seems more like he accidentally wandered on to a set of a movie after having awakened from a week-long coma.
Gooding stars as Mack, a self-described soldier of fortune leading a rescue mission in the Middle East. Now, I don't know about the rest of you, but when I think of a soldier of fortune, I actually think of a mercenary and not some sort of career soldier in Special Forces. But since the hackneyed script doesn't seem to delineate the difference, I guess we can assume that a guy in Special Forces is also a soldier of fortune. Anyway, Mack is the leader of motley assortment of soldiers of (mis)fortune that are sent in to rescue some sort of archeological team that has gone missing after a seismic disturbance. Once our team of wise-cracking, gun-toting kickers of ass arrives at the underground bunker where the scientific team has gone missing, they make some spooky discoveries. First, you've got Bill Moseley, who appears to be dead, but is still moving around and quoting the Bible. When bullets don't stop crazy Mr. Moseley, Mack and his team, rather than getting the hell outta the place, decide to investigate more. This is just the beginning of a downward spiral into stupidity, as it takes a special kind of moron to run across a talking zombie and not say, "You know what, I think I'll skip this party." Of course, things get freakier, with team members hallucinating and all sorts of supernatural mumbo jumbo going on. One of the soldiers is visited by a young girl that is actually her aborted baby, while another is seduced by a naked woman, both of which seem like perfectly normal things to encounter on a mission at an underground bunker somewhere in the Middle East. Soon--but not soon enough--Mack and his team come to realize that they have stumbled upon an ancient burial site where an angel cast out from Heaven has been frozen in ice (or something that looks like ice, but could be something else). It seems that this cast out angel, which in theory could be considered a variation of a demon, wants to take over a human body in order to wreak havoc on a Biblical level. But there really isn't anything to fear, because Cuba Gooding Jr. is on the case, and though he doesn't bug his eyes and prance around like he did in Snow Dogs or look deadly serious with a quivering upper lip like he did in Men of Honor, clearly he can handle the situation.
The Devil's Tomb is one of those movies you catch one night on cable and watch while thinking, "This isn't that bad, but it sure isn't that good." But by the time the movie is over, and you've had all of a minute or two to dwell on what you've just seen, the shear magnitude of how bad this thing really is comes flooding down over you like an avalanche of crap. Recycling story elements from Aliens, Prince of Darkness, The Thing and The Lost Patrol, The Devil's Tomb doesn't appear to have a shred of originality to claim as its own. The script is nothing more than a series of familiar scenarios that, depending on how many movies you've seen, quickly degenerate into tired clichés. There is also an overarching sense of stupidity that infects every scene in the movie. The characters say and do stupid things, and react stupidly to the stupid shit that is happening to them. Watching the movie is like being beaten up by slobbering goons wielding heavy clubs made of stupid.
Sleepwalking his way through the movie, Gooding comes across like he's literally there to collect a check. For an actor known for his over the top hijinks, this time around he shows almost no emotions or signs of life whatsoever. And while I suspect that may be what the character of Mack was supposed to be, Gooding doesn't play the emotionally dead soldier convincingly. And while the rest of the cast actually appears to be doing something that could be considered acting, the script makes it so that whatever efforts are being put forth by the other performers, it is all for naught (because, as I mentioned, the script is stupid).
On some level, I suppose The Devil's Tomb might be entertaining, if what you're looking for is junk filmmaking. And it is certainly good for unintentional laughs. You could also have some sort of perverse fun watching the movie and pointing out all the ridiculous things (there's already an impressive list on IMDB). But if you watch this stinker with the intention of seeing something good--something that leaves you entertained and not feeling like you wasted your time or your money--then this is most certainly not the movie for you.
The Devil's Tomb is presented 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is good, with a decent image transfer and no noticeable artifacts or defects. The quality of the picture serves as a nice distraction from the quality of the story itself, making the movie easy to look at even while you're rolling your eyes at the ludicrous script.
The Devil's Tomb is presented English in 5.1 Dolby Digital, as well as dubbed in French in 5.1, and with optional English or French subtitles. The mix is good, with dialog and music levels adequate separated and consistently mixed so as not to become muddled.
There is a sixteen-minute making of featurette that is the standard promotional material and serves to make the film look better than it really is. Everyone involved seems sincere in their belief they are making a good movie, which of course is just kind of sad. Six alternate scenes (8 min.) show that at least some good decisions were made in the production of the film by trimming certain moments down. Cuba Gooding Jr. and director Jason Connery provide an audio commentary, but listening to commentaries is now reserved only for movies I'm willing to sit through a second time.
With so many choices at the video store or on cable, not to mention other distractions like reading a book or scrubbing your bathroom, I can't think of a reason for watching The Devil's Tomb.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]