DOA: Dead or Alive (2006) / Action-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, some sexuality, and language
Running Time: 87 min.
Cast: Jaime Pressly, Devon Aoki, Eric Roberts, Holly Valance, Sarah Carter, Natasha Malthe, Steve Howey, Matthew Marsden, Brian J. White, Collin Chou, Kane Kosugi, Derek Boyer, Kevin Nash, Silvio Simac
Director: Corey Yuen
Screenplay: J.F. Lawton, Adam Gross, Seth Gross
Review published October 6, 2006
My review of this film can be easily summed up by just using the first three letters of the title.
The "Dead or Alive" (aka "DOA") series of video games have been around for over ten years now, a 3D fighter in the "Virtua Fighter" mold that has a strong appeal to gamers due to very fluid and quick fighting movements, arcade-like scenarios, and, perhaps most importantly in terms of its popularity, plenty of gratuitous cheesecake involved in the sexy appeal of the main female characters. The video game world has always been, and still is, primarily dominated by male interests, and unlike other fighting games that concentrate more on the martial arts violence or easy-play head-to-head aspects, "Dead or Alive" just has that extra level of eye candy that makes it hard to resist for young heterosexual guys. When aspects like the "bounce factor" of the female breasts are adjustable in the options for the game, you can pretty much guess where the emphasis lies in the developers of the series.
Although most who have played the game would probably be hard-pressed in recounting just what plots are involved in what versions of the games they have experienced, there actually is some minor attempt at a back story in nearly every one of them. Just like the "Street Fighter" series, they involve a world tournament of international fighters, all with different fighting styles, competing to see which one is the best in various vistas around the world (here, the tournament is funded by a large corporation). Each fighter is presented with his or her own personal reasons for competing in the event, either for money or revenge, with an overriding plot tying in to the corporation and its goals to create the ultimate fighter or weapon for its own evil purposes. (This film version has the tournament completely on one island owned by the corporation, now headed by the unscrupulously power-hungry Donovan (Roberts, National Security).
Despite the fact that video games based on arcade-style fighters have been made without a great deal of critical or commercial success (Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat are the two most popular), it looks like someone hasn't learned that the formula doesn't quite work when translating these elements to the big screen. While every effort is made to incorporate every basic aspect of the video games into the story, what the producers of this "junk food" action vehicle fail to realize is that the primary reason for the popularity of most fighter games is the "pick up and play" factor for most gamers, who like fast action, a lack of plot, and the competition factor that makes them especially fun to play with a friend. Nobody really gives a rat's ass about each particular character and his or her story except as a means to provide a momentary respite from the furious button-mashing involved in each stage of the tournament. You turn it on, you play, you turn it off and go about your day -- an easy, enjoyable distraction you hardly think twice about.
I guess if I wanted to give the filmmakers some credit here, I could definitely state that even this mindless aspect of the games has translated into the movie. Exactly like the game, every scene in the film pushes the buttons of titillation, whether through the attractiveness of the actors, the thunderous violence, or the lightning-quick fluid CGI-laden fighting. If all you are looking for is a live-action recreation of the video game, DOA: Dead or Alive is nearly perfect in that regard, as practically everything you'd associate with the games is in there, from the costume changes, various locations, and signature moves. Even the spin-off game, "Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball" is worked into the plot of the film itself. I should point out for the purists, there are some changes: some of the characters have been excluded, a couple of new ones created, and a few of the nationalities and races altered. Still, for the most part, they get the "important" stuff right.
While all of this may be pleasing to those who have ever been obsessed with the video game series, unfortunately for moviegoers who are not especially familiar, this movie delivers very paltry goods. While it definitely covers the bases on everything that makes the video game a hit, it also never gives us anything more. Without the personal interactive quality for people in the audience, it is about as stimulating as watching someone else play "Dead or Alive" for nearly ninety minutes on your TV at home. There are some miniscule attempts at character development here and there, but not enough to make us give a damn, as the entire construct of the film is to show plenty of fighting and scantily-clad babes whenever possible. Like the games, the emphasis of the movie is on the female characters, mostly because they are hot and marketable for the poster and advertisements. No surprise, as "sex sells" has always been the motto of the franchise through and through.
Directed by longtime Hong Kong action veteran Cory Yuen (The Huadu Chronicles, The Transporter), DOA offers plenty of well-choreographed fighting and a stimulating visual style that should definitely go down well for lovers of eye candy theatrics. The plot is cheesy and the dialogue campy, so lovers of bad cinema may be especially fond of this schlocky entry into their video collection. However, if you don't fall into one of these two camps, DOA will prove to be a tedious experience, with little in the way of interest in the main story, one-dimensional characters, or barely-evident plot twists. Each scene of violence or juvenile sexuality is followed by just another one. If you're one of those rare moviegoers who thought Charlie's Angels put too much emphasis on characters and plot, perhaps this more remedial version will be right up your alley.
My advice if you're still interested: rent any one of the video games in the series instead. It will cover every base the film does, but features one basic component this movie version lacks: your involvement.
©2006 Vince Leo