Double Dragon (1994) / Action-Adventure
MPAA Rated PG-13 for violence and language
Running time: 96 min.
Cast: Scott Wolf, Mark Dacascos, Robert Patrick, Alyssa Milano, Kristina Wagner, Julia Nickson, Nils Allen Stewart, Leon Russom, Al Leong
Cameo: George Hamilton, Vanna White, Andy Dick, Gilbert Gottfried
Director: James Nickson (aka James Yukich)
Screenplay: Michael Davis, Peter Gould
Review published July 31, 2011
A mish-mash of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book-caliber camp, Home Alone style pratfalls, "Power Rangers" color schemes, and Super Mario Bros. mucky visual awfulness, Double Dragon is one of the worst of the video game adaptations to film, and easily one of the least memorable. With characters that grate, clueless direction, and a story nearly lost under the rampant CGI and cluttered sets, it's an ugly, unpalatable mess from start to finish. Despite what appears to be a sizable budget for sets, costumes and special effects, its studio had it on the shelf for a couple of years before finally unleashing it into theaters, where it made a paltry $2.3 million domestically. By the time it was released, the younger gamers had grown too old to be entertained by such a kiddie movie (the PG-13 rating didn't help it reach its pre-adolescent audience), and kids had already moved on to better fighting games like 'Street Fighter II' and 'Mortal Kombat', both of which were released as movie adaptations around the same time.
Set in the futuristic year of 2007, in a city dubbed New Angeles, after having been reconstructed after a giant earthquake that happened a decade before in Southern California, where gangs and criminals mostly have their run of the city streets at night. Outside of the ineffective New Angeles Police Department, a vigilante group called the Power Corps, with direction from a teenage girl named Marian (Milano, Commando), are the only organized force willing to take on the evil forces around the town. She knows talent when she sees it, so when she stumbles across a couple of martial artist orphaned brothers named Jimmy (Dacascos, The Island of Dr. Moreau) and Billy (Wolf, White Squall) Lee (who look nothing alike), she recruits them for the cause of good. Their top adversary is a megalomaniac tycoon named Koga Shuko (Patrick, Die Hard 2), aka 'The Shadow Master', who has become quite powerful in all but taking completely over the streets, utilizing his ability to change into shadow form and take over the bodies of others. The Lee brothers and their guardian Satori (Nickson, Rambo: First Blood Part II) ) have half of a powerful, mystical ancient Chinese medallion, while Koga has the other, and he'll do whatever it takes to get his avaricious hands on it (how convenient that the second half of the medallion he stole from a miniscule village in China would be in the very same city as Shuko!).
Although two brothers trained in martial arts, only Dacascos has the requisite fighting skills to deliver any on-screen whoop-ass that merits mentioning. Scott Wolf is hired primarily for his all-American looks and comedic personality, and obvious stunt doubles are used whenever the scenes necessitate any amount of physical feats. If Dacascos' fighting skills weren't the only impressive aspect of the movie, perhaps there might be something more to hang on to in terms of interest for the 90+ minute duration. Robert Patrick gets top billing after turning in a similar character performance as the shape-shifting T-1000 in Terminator 2, but whatever malice his character must evoke is lost under what appears to be an attempt to cross Vanilla Ice's Cool as Ice look with that of Wesley Snipes in New Jack City. Sadly, it's a wasteland of botched ideas (unless you consider pummeling foes with a parking cone an idea), with a cluttered and ugly visual aesthetic and a good deal of noisy mayhem ratcheted up to try to cover over the fact that there aren't many ideas to find underneath.
Double Dragon is a disappointment for those looking for a humorous martial arts film, as it is neither funny nor well choreographed from an action perspective. But the biggest disappointment will come from fans of the video game, which the film's script only tangentially adheres to. The only audiences that may come away entertained are those rare individuals who saw the film in their youth and are unapologetically nostalgic, or movie masochists that enjoy kitschy but horrible films that miss their mark by wrong-headed studio attempts to capitalize on a popular trend. Even those viewers looking to make fun of an unintentionally funny camp comedy will succumb to boredom from the brain-numbing, soul-sucking experience of Double Dragon's boundless ineptitude.
©2011 Vince Leo