The post-Oscar career trajectory of Cuba Gooding, Jr. has been a subject of some fascination/discussion here, as have many of his straight-to-video projects (some of which have actually been pretty good, some not so much). Those threads get picked back up with the release of The Devil’s Tomb, Gooding’s latest film, in which he stars as the leader of an elite military squad that encounters an ancient evil lurking beneath the desert sands. Questionable special effects ensue.
The Devil’s Tomb is cast with recognizable names all around — Taryn Manning, Ron Perlman, Ray Winstone, Valeria Cruz, Jason London and even Henry Rollins — but it’s Gooding who stars as Mack, the point man on an Army rescue team that wages into
the fringes of Palm Springs a nameless Middle Eastern desert on a mission to extract the scientist father (Perlman) of one of their tag-along crew, a man who was leading the research at a top secret archeological site before all communications with him were cut off. Almost immediately upon their arrival, the crew finds Alfeo Jacoby (Weston Blakesley), a Vatican priest stricken mute with mysterious boils.
Lots of bickering follows, but it’s not long before Mack is told that the research being conducted centers around nephilim — fallen angel-type figures who may be either good or bad, depending on your belief set. In fact, there’s at least one on site, suspended in some sort of ether. A Bible-quoting undead professor (Bill Moseley), other zombie-type figures and all sorts of apparitions who seem to know an awful lot of specifics about Mack’s crew also pop up, and the body count beings to mount, predictably.
The Devil’s Tomb is directed by Jason Connery (above right), son of bearded screen legend and inside-out sock wearer Sean, who does not cameo, alas. Screenwriter Keith Kjornes (Broken) sets things up decently and, early on, pulls all the levers of snippy back-biting one has come to expect from gung-ho military ensembles of this sort. The obvious (and cited) antecedents here are The Thing and Alien, the latter more for its isolation than any skulking alien presence. But there’s a pinch, too, of the woozy free-form menace of something like Silent Hill, which was itself part Alice in Wonderland and part Dante’s Inferno. A shame, then, that the potential for tangential unease is never realized. One problem is that scope and space are hopelessly cramped. There are ways to get around this — or even embrace it, with claustrophobia as an extra character — but Connery opts to try to basically make an underground, Doom-type thriller, which just underscores the movie’s cheapness at almost every turn.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, The Devil’s Tomb comes to DVD presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with English and French language Dolby digital 5.1 audio tracks, and optional subtitles in each language as well. The film’s special features are anchored by a feature-length audio commentary track with Gooding and director Connery, in which the pair discuss the many challenges of the film’s 23-day shoot, from the asbestos in the downtown Los Angeles location of Linda Vista to the various cheat methodologies used to change up spaces or trick the human eye, from having an actor bend at the knees to convey a lowering elevator to using mocked-up plywood to narrow walls into corridors.
Other special features include a 17-minute making-of featurette with intercut cast and crew interviews, in which Gooding talks about his character’s authority being an attractive element and Rollins describes the process of acting in the movie as being “really serious about something that’s incomprehensibly impossible.” There are also a half dozen alternate scenes running eight-and-a-half minutes, 90 seconds of outtakes (flubbed lines and missed cues, plus Perlman painfully smacking his head on a beam) and a collection of preview trailers for Against the Dark and a dozen other Sony home video releases. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. D+ (Movie) B- (Disc)