Genius Products // 2006 // 86 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 28th, 2007
The director of The Transporter tackles the popular Tecmo video game franchise known most for the physics-defying, too-heavy anatomy of its female characters. When you're dealing with that kind of rich mythos, how can you go wrong?
The world's greatest fighters are summoned to a remote island to participate in the elite Dead or Alive tournament, the winner walking away with bragging rights and a hefty $10 million fight purse.
Headlining the all-star lineup are wrestler Tina Armstrong (Jaime Pressly, My Name is Earl), shifty cat burglar Christie (Holly Valance) and renegade ninja princess Kasumi (Devon Aoki). They'll have their fearsome combat skills tested when they're matched up with a slew of familiar faces from the video game, but the real challenge will come when the sinister organizer, Donovan (Eric Roberts), unveils the true purpose of the tournament.
I'm a fan of the Dead or Alive video game fighting series this movie is based on, and I can easily say that the feature translation is about as an accurate depiction of the pixilated high jinks of its source material than any other video-game-to-movie translation I've seen. Yeah, that's not really a compliment.
Here's what both the move and games share:
A Plot that Makes No Sense
Team Ninja, the developer behind the DOA video games (as well as Ninja Gaiden, just about the greatest action game ever made) excels at constructing fun games to play, but the narratives draped upon this award-winning button-mashing make about as much sense as the incoherent ramblings of Britney Spears. DOA especially has never featured a storyline that makes sense, with the characters uttering disjointed lines of dialogue between fights and before matching up with a psychedelic boss character: my favorite, the whacked-out Pinocchio-nose angel dude from Dead or Alive 2. The film treatment follows in the footsteps of its console brethren, featuring a jumbled plot about Eric Roberts and his quest to download fighting styles into a pair of Ray-Bans. There are some nanobots too. And a volleyball game.
Right, me neither.
Frantic, Over-Stylized Combat
Again, this works real well in the world of video games, where it's a ton of fun to flick the analog stick with a button-press and execute a flying bird double whammy rabbit punch, but in a movie, these types of sensational moves are a stretch. Credit though to Yuen for knowing he's not making a reality-based, gritty fight film, because he goes all-in with his action choreography, but in this age of Bourne and Casino Royale and Ong Bak, this wire-fu, CGI-enabled acrobatic claptrap is starting to look pretty cheesy.
I know it's counter to the female empowerment vibe that's going on in the film, but the truth is, the most exciting bouts featured the men, obviously trained in martial arts. Saying that, I will acknowledge that the ladies, either through their own athleticism or clever camera-work or both, displayed a nice command of the action scenes. Theirs were just more visual effects-driven, and I'm not feeling that stuff these days.
Let's cut to the straight dope. DOA has one demographic in mind, and it's not the Women's Studies faculty in Cornell University. Young teen boys is what Yuen and company are gunning for, and, like the game, DOA is not shy about blasting out the bra and panties shots. It's of the PG-13 ilk, of course, but Yuen does what he can to squeeze as much schwing action as he can from his set-ups. My favorite: the introduction to Christie, where she takes on a handful of hotel security guards topless, managing the amazing feat of concealing her areolae from the camera -- thanks to some CGI in post is my guess. The T&A is playful, much like the film itself, but it's obvious that the writers knew that the video games were most notorious for the, er, jiggle factor.
DOA is corny, action-packed and nonsensical, and the atmosphere throughout the runtime feels just like the game. So yeah, it's an incredibly honest translation. But here's the problem: I got to actually play the video game. That's where the value came from. Here, passively watching the cheesiness unfold leaves much to be desired. But at least no one takes it seriously. And what the heck is with Eric Roberts' hair? It looks like someone button-holed a timber wolf pelt to his skull.
The movie looks nice; the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen does the robust color work a service. For sound, the 5.1 surround mix pounds, with the relentless techno music that accompanies each fight capable of summoning the police to your doorstep if you've got the gear to handle it. The extras cupboard is meagerly stocked, sporting only the trailer and an 11-minute making-of promo doc.
Nerd alert! My man Ryu Hayubusa, the badass from the aforementioned Ninja Gaiden has his moments, but overall I do not agree with his portrayal in the film. Awkward and goofy, the guy is less the bloodletting killing machine from the Tecmo universe and more George Michael Bluth.
The best thing I can say about DOA is that it's brainless action with beautiful women swinging swords at each other's faces. But it is really goofy. If you're not currently going through male puberty, the potential for entertainment is miniscule.
Stick with the game. At least you can control the fights, and, if you're really lonely, pause it as just the right moment for maximum polygonal titillation.
Review content copyright © 2007 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Official Site