Ponder for a moment the curious case of Cuba Gooding Jr.
In 1991 he gives a standout performance in John Singleton’s powerful drama Boyz in the Hood. This raises his profile significantly, helping him to secure decent parts in large box office successes such as the Tom Cruise star vehicle A Few Good Men. By 1996 he gains another chance to star alongside Cruise, this time in the international mega-success Jerry Maguire. It is a more significant role and one that wins him the Oscar for ‘Best Supporting Actor’ at the age of 28. A few years go by and compelling performances are given in films such as the flawed but highly imaginative What Dreams May Come and overblown action schmaltz Pearl Harbour.
It is around this time that things begin to go seriously awry. There’s a string of notable duds in the form of Rat Race, Boat Trip and Snow Dogs. This troubling change in direction continues into the mid noughties with appearances in increasingly sloppy and substandard movies such as Home on the Range and Shadowboxer until, finally, his trajectory shifts quietly towards straight to DVD hell – occasionally making unnerving detours into abysmal comedies like Norbit and Daddy Day Care. This brings us nicely onto The Devil’s Tomb.
A group of mercenaries are hired by attractive anthropologist Dr. Cardell (Valerie Cruz) in order to infiltrate an isolated desert research facility and rescue her scientist father. Leading this rag tag group of juvenile misfits is Mack (Gooding Jr), a serious looking man with a scowl that could dissolve rust. With the singular goal to keep his troupe alive, his metal is tested when the facility turns out to be overrun by possessed lab assistants, a demonic Bob Mosely (aka Otis from The Devil’s Rejects) and jittery muscle bound priest, Henry Rollins.
As the nerdier readers out there might have deduced, it’s actually a pretty fun cast. Even Ron Perlman and Ray Winston pop up from time to time to lend their theatrical gravitas to otherwise fumbled and extraneous scenes.
What really perplexes is, in the midst of such talent, how Rollins manages to steal the spotlight. His b-movie delivery is right on the money and the enthusiasm with which he devours the scenery only assists to highlight how Gooding Jr has become a shambling, soulless husk of a man. Years of punitive servitude in the video dungeon seem to have genuinely affected him, lending a cold, thousand mile star to his once youthful mug. It is a rather sad state of affairs and, in many respects, a truer horror than the onscreen monsters.
Of course, those toothless devils couldn’t put the shivers in a newborn child. When they’re not vomiting battery acid they’re too busy deciding what kind of ghouls they want to be to actually frighten you. Taking the form of Ringu-esque ghost girls, Shining-esque naked corpses and Hellraiser-esque body shockers, they never abate their identity crisis. In fact the whole film has this problem, it’s neither the Aliens style action sci-fi it clearly wants to be nor the satanic horror it thinks it is.
There are even a series sloppy flashback sequences that attempt to arose some kind of war film intensity but fail miserably as, up until the conclusive part, they serve little to no purpose.
The Devil’s Tomb is embarrassing and less entertaining than the common Syfy schlock it most dutifully emulates. It works best as a study in what can happen when big stars make bad choices, forced to take whatever parts they can in order to make ends meet.
In the prescient words of a dwindling star ‘Show me the money!’