Sony // 2009 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // June 1st, 2009
Some things should never be unearthed.
Whether you're a believer or not, it's tough to argue that The Bible doesn't contain some pretty weird stuff. Beyond the miracles attributed to God and his agents, there's crazy stuff involving things like the Leviathan. Maybe that's why writers keep returning to it every time they need a whacked-out plot to have some significance beyond "because I'm the writer and I say so." With a name like The Devil's Tomb, you can be sure that this flick does exactly that, using random biblical passages to give an otherwise lackluster story some punch. Although there are far worse action flicks out there, The Devil's Tomb should probably be relegated to late-night cable ASAP.
Mack (Cuba Gooding Jr., Linewatch) must lead an elite troop under the desert to rescue Wesley (Ron Perlman, Hellboy) from The Devil's Tomb.
Except for choosing the right script, director Jason Connery (son of -- you guessed it -- Sean Connery) did everything right for his second picture. He chose a solid cast and an atmospheric set, and created effective action set pieces.
I should mention that if you've been watching movies for a while, pretty much every face on screen will appear familiar. The cast is anchored by Cuba Gooding Jr. as the military leader. His talent has not diminished despite the material. It's amazing that the young up-and-comer of Jerry McGuire could so convincingly play a well-worn soldier (although the prosthetic scar helps). Cuba plays all the right moves, being stoic in the face of danger and sympathetic to his crew. Ray Winstone has another excellent turn as the team's former leader, his usual gruff demeanor in full view. Ron Perlman gets little screen time, but he doesn't waste it, bringing a somber tone that benefits the lightweight script. The rest of the cast is filled out with names like Zack Ward, Jason London, Bill Moseley, and Taryn Manning, names that many film fans will be happy to see again. All of the actors in smaller roles acquit themselves nicely. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the casting of Henry Rollins. Yes, that Henry Rollins, and as a priest no less. It's a beautiful bit of stunt casting, and while it's not Rollins' best role, it's enough of a hoot to make his casting worthwhile.
All but the first few minutes of the film take place underground, which allows Connery to use sets for most of the flick. This works well because he can manipulate space to tell the story, as when the team has to descend in a suspect elevator, not to mention the numerous firefights in the tunnels. Often sets created out of whole cloth feel that way, like rickety sets that haven't been "lived in" (this is especially true in the direct to DVD realm). This doesn't happen with The Devil's Tomb. I got the sense the entire time that this was an actual research station that had seen years of use. That's pretty impressive considering I didn't have the story to distract me from the sets.
The sets are also effectively used during the numerous action scenes in the film. Because the "evil" under the ground can take people over (give them nasty acne in the process), there's plenty of opportunity for gunfights and bloodshed. Considering this seems more geared towards action fans than horror buffs, the level of gore is pretty impressive. Some of the blood effects are digital, but many are not. When things finally turn for the worse, the confined spaces and Connery decision to let some things happen off-screen ratchets up the tension. I don't think he's the next John Woo, but The Devil's Tomb shows that Jason Connery can do action well.
Sony also deserves some credit for releasing another direct to DVD action film with both a good audiovisual presentation and some nice extras. The film looks good on this DVD, with surprisingly few problems with the low-light atmosphere and nothing serious to complain about at all. The audio mix is fairly aggressive, with lots of loud gunfire that still manages to keep the dialogue audible.
For extras we get a commentary with the director and star Cuba Gooding Jr. where the pair trade production stories. There are also some alternate scenes and outtakes, as well as a short making-of featurette.
One thing keeps The Devil's Tomb spinning in first gear: the script. I was willing to overlook the fact that the plot was just like every other "let's take an elite team of soldiers into that spaceship/jungle/nursing home" movie out there. I was even willing to accept that all the characters would be stereotypes. The problem came when the team finally got somewhere in discovering why they were underground in the first place. Obviously, because the film wasn't screaming originality, I knew that there was going to be some "surprise" double-cross, but the biblical mumbo-jumbo used to justify the entire enterprise was just too drawn out but at the same time not specific enough. I was never sure which objective the team was aiming for: getting out, finishing their mission, or finishing the new "betrayed!" mission. Kudos to the writer for trying to do something interesting with the relationship between Cuba Gooding Jr. and Ray Winstone, but the payoff for that was meager at best.
With a stronger script, The Devil's Tomb could have been a blockbuster action flick. Instead, it's a quick romp through cliché territory. Action fans won't hate themselves for watching it (and neither will fans of the stars), but keep expectations low. Despite a solid DVD from Sony, I can only recommend a rental for the desperate.
Guilty of wasting a heap of talent on a mess of a script.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Scenes