DOA: Dead or Alive

Movies based on video games are usually not appreciated among critics and non-players, and although some succeed both in terms of quality and revenue, most of them just stink and crash and burn at the box office. DOA: Dead or Alive falls in between those two extremes, and while it’s not the best movie of its genre, it’s undoubtedly better than most. Business however turned out to be catastrophic during the theatrical run, and the film collected a mere $480,000 on U.S. territory. Set on a remote high-tech island, DOA is a unique martial arts tournament in which the world’s best fighters compete for a large cash prize. Monitored by mastermind Donovan (Eric Roberts), 16 chosen combatants go one on one in spectacular elimination battles. Among them are wrestling star Tina Armstrong (Jaime Pressly), ninja princess Kasumi (Devon Aoki) and master thief Christie (Holly Valance), who quickly move up the chart and will more than likely have to face off during the finals. However, as the competition progresses, the ladies stumble across dangerous secrets that could jeopardize DOA and put the whole world in peril.

I’m definitely not a DOA expert, but I do know enough about it to admit that the big screen version is incredibly close to the original game. The characters, the structure of the battles, the moves and the costumes and locations have all been preserved, and for most of the film’s 86-minute running time, you’ll really feel like watching a video game playing itself. The downside of this is the absence of a solid story, which ruins pretty much everything that takes place in between the fight sequences. Instead on emphasizing more on the characters and including a breathtaking final battle with twists and turns, the plot drowns in shallowness and offers the best of “been there, seen that.”

I also have to admit that the short running time sure plays to the movie’s advantage. The fights are numerous and fast-paced, and enjoyable to watch, especially since most of them involve one or more gorgeous ladies who wear sharp bikinis and kick some serious (mostly male) butt. I know there are more intelligent activities to engage in, but hey, brainless movies can be entertaining sometimes. Especially those with the hardcore ladies! Unfortunately, the fun fades and the action is abruptly cut off by the absurd showdown, which not only looks crappy but also provokes lots of “blahs” instead of “wows.”

As far as performances go, DOA does not require much talent, and as I briefly mentioned before, everything that occurs between the battles looks dull and sounds rehearsed. I don’t fault the cast for having to put up with stupid dialogue, but they don’t even engage in the slightest effort to make it sound somewhat credible. I do however congratulate Jaime Pressly, Devon Aoki, Holly Valance and Sarah Carter for their looks and awesome physical action, which they underwent a strict training for prior to the shooting. Oh, and for those wondering, yes, that is WWE star Kevin Nash playing Tina’s dad.

Cory Yuen’s DOA: Dead or Alive is not a total disaster, but it could have been a much more appealing experience. Although most of the action here involves martial arts, the degree of violence is low, maybe even too low. Watching ladies battle it out with big swords and absolutely no blood is just not that spectacular anymore. Thank Quentin Tarantino for that. But hey, if you love the game, watch the movie. It won’t hurt. The DVD release for DOA is all but exciting. In case you were dreaming of an unrated version with some nudity or supplementary violence, you’re in for a major disappointment. No, the feature film hasn’t changed a bit, and the special features section on the disc is not exactly a knockout.

Besides eight relatively short deleted scenes that offer nothing but lame extended fighting sequences and another round of trashy dialogue, the bonus material on the DVD comprises an interesting 11-minute making-of entitled “East Meets West: Behind the Action of DOA.” On a more positive note, this featurette reveals a little bit more about the main actresses and offers a look at how they physically geared up for their roles. Spectators also receive some useful details about the sets and locations, Corey Yuen’s extravagant directing techniques, and the montage of select stunts and fights, which proves that the cast delivered most of the moves themselves. It’s not a particularly long feature, but it offers just enough you may want to know about the production of DOA.

The extra material on the DVD could have included a short piece on the video game for the viewers not so familiar with it, but on the other hand, I wonder if there really is an audience for this besides the hardcore fans. All in all, an informative behind-the-scenes look is better than nothing, but if the short running time of the feature film gets you all excited and yearning for more, it’s game over for you pretty quickly. I guess the only solution is to just start over. That’s what you do when you lose in a video game, right?