Reel Opinions

Saturday, June 16, 2007

DOA: Dead or Alive

The journey that DOA: Dead or Alive took to the big screen is a long and complicated one. Originally set to be released in the summer of 2006, the film found itself lingering and sitting on the studio shelf as it waited for a release date. During this time, the film was released in numerous foreign countries over the past year, and is already available on DVD in many regions. You may wonder why Dimension Films would choose to give this movie a theatrical release now, when just about everyone who has wanted to see it has either already seen it, bought the import DVD, or watched it on line. That's a very good question, as this film would have probably been better suited as a straight to DVD release over here. At the very least, American filmgoers can now finally find out what viewers all over the world have known for the past year - Dead or Alive stinks.

Based on a series of fighting video games, the film is set on a remote island where a martial arts tournament is held every year by the evil Donovan (Eric Roberts), who wishes to use technology to study and copy the moves of the world's best fighters, and turn himself into the best martial artist by stealing all of their abilities. The competitors that the film mainly follows include a ninja princess named Kasumi (Devon Aoki), who is searching for her brother, after he competed in the tournament the previous year, and mysteriously went missing. Southern pro wrestler Tina Armstrong (Jaime Pressley) is fighting to prove that she is a real martial artist after years of being ridiculed for her scripted wrestling fights. Finally, professional thief Christie Allen (Holly Valance) has come not only to compete, but to also steal a fortune that is supposedly locked away in a secret vault somewhere on the island. The three girls eventually catch on to Donovan's evil plan with the help of Helena Douglas (Sarah Carter), the daughter of the man who originally founded the tournament years ago and believes Donovan is behind his death, and Donovan's former technology head, Weatherby (Steve Howey), who has had a change of heart, and wants to shut his former boss down.

Okay, let's be honest, I was not expecting DOA: Dead or Alive to be good. I mean, it's based on a video game series that is best known for being the first 3D fighting game to feature bouncing breasts on its female fighters. But, even trash can be fun if done the right way, and I geared myself up to be in the right mind set to enjoy this intentional cheese-fest. I quickly found myself fighting a losing battle, thanks to the uninspired direction by Corey Yuen (The Transporter). I do admit, some of the fight scenes are fun. Christy's introduction scene, where she fights off some federal agents wearing only a towel, is good clean campy fun. Unfortunately, very few of the fights contained within the film are fun or interesting. It's not that they're badly choreographed or that the fighting isn't up to par. It's just that many of them are rather unmemorable, and they eventually start to blend into each other. If you're going to build your movie around beautiful women beating up each other and other people, you should at least have fun with it. The women are all physically able, but don't seem to be enjoying themselves. It doesn't help matters that the performances are generally terrible all around. Devon Aoki really needs to learn more than one facial expression, or at least learn not to talk in the same tone of voice, no matter what line she's delivering. I also found Jaime Pressley's overly forced Southern drawl to be a bit much, even for a movie as goofy as this.

As I'm sure you can tell, the plot really doesn't matter here. It's all about the fights, and the T&A. Those who are seeking such things will probably have to wait for the inevitable "Unrated" DVD, as the film's PG-13 rating pretty much prevents the movie from going down the path it wants to go down. However, for a movie that obviously doesn't care about the plot, there sure is a lot of it. Everyone seems to have their own story and reason for fighting, but none of them are developed in any satisfactory way. The subplot that gets the most attention is Kasumi's search for her missing brother, so I will focus on that. Apparently, the people of her kingdom are upset that she left to fight in the tournament, and have sent a purple-haired assassin named Ayane (Natassia Malthe) after her to kill her. It's impossible to take this plot seriously, as not only is it completely underdeveloped, but with her unconvincing purple wig, Ayane looks more like someone costume playing at a Japanese anime convention, than a trained assassin. I'm assuming the filmmakers were trying to stay true to the original video game character (I have not played the DOA games, so I do not know if Ayane has purple hair), but they had to have known how ridiculous she looked as a live character, and maybe gone a different route.

There's one other point I feel the need to bring up. After seeing Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer yesterday and now this, I am completely convinced that writers have run out of good ideas when it comes to plots for their villains. Donovan's ultimate scheme makes Dr. Doom's evil scheme seem downright genius in comparison. So, Donovan wants to capture the ability of the world's greatest fighters using these little microscopic robots that he injects into the fighters during a screening process. These robots study and read their movements, downloading them into a computer. He can then use this gathered information to beam all of the fighting skills of everyone there into his body, thus making him the greatest martial artist in the world. Far fetched? Oh, hell, yes. But that's not the part that bothers me. What bothers me is his choice of how he decides to transfer this information into his body. The information can only be gathered when he's wearing this special pair of highly advanced sunglasses. As long as he's wearing the sunglasses, he's all powerful. Now, let me ask you something. If you're in a fight, don't you think the sunglasses would be hard to keep on your face at all times? Wouldn't they be far to easy for your opponent to knock off, thus rendering you helpless and vulnerable? I imagine that this Donovan person thought his evil scheme through for all of five minutes, gave himself a pat on the back, and didn't even bother to look at the obvious.
DOA: Dead or Alive obviously wants to be a fun, goofy romp in the style of the Charlie's Angels films. Only problem is that it's not a lot of fun, and it's hard to get involved with. Making an enjoyable trashy film is a very fine art, and I have great admiration for those who are able to pull it off. This movie makes so many mistakes, we stop concentrating on the fights and the beautiful women, and start concentrating on the numerous plot holes and chainsaw-style editing. (One minute, the girls are standing in a lab that's just been sealed off, and the next time we see them, they're being held captive in these oversized capsule containers with no explanation what happened, or who put them in those containers.) When it was over, I couldn't help but think of another phrase that DOA also stands for, and suits this movie so much better - Dead on Arrival.



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