It’s pretty universally understood that video games don’t make good movies. None have succeeded, yet the studios keep trying. One subgenre of video games that has had particularly bad luck making its way to the big screen are fighting games. Street Fighter pretty much tossed the fighting concept aside and adapted all of the characters into a story about a military response to a madman’s attempt at seizing power. Mortal Combat held a little more true to the idea of a fighting tournament but got bogged down in boring subplots and poor visual effects. With a plot that stays more focused on its origins, and an adaptation that embraces the T&A mentality that made the games so successful, could DoA: Dead or Alive be the best video game adaptation to date?
The answer: quite possibly, although that still doesn’t make it a great movie. It’s kind of like saying it has the least plot loopholes or is the strongest bland story. DoA is an enjoyable flick to watch, but Citizen Kane it ain’t – it’s not even the video game version of Citizen Kane.
The DoA games center around a martial arts tournament that assembles the best fighter of varying styles and allows them to compete to see who is best. The movie follows that pretty closely. Sixteen fighters of various abilities are assembled together to fight for bragging rights – oh, and a ten million dollar purse. Don’t worry about following sixteen fighters. Some of them have “blink and you’ll miss them” appearances, most likely just to appease the die hard fans of the franchise. I don’t know where they go, because, for a “DoA Tournament,” the movie has an obvious lack of “D”; that is to say nobody dies. It might as well have been called a KO Tournament because the hardest way anyone is eliminated from the tourney is by knock-out, with some of them walking away after less than that. My guess is the lack of death is a gesture to maintain that PG-13 rating.
The movie thankfully focuses on only a handful of the fighters, with only three or four truly taking center stage – and buddy, they are all ladies. You see, the big appeal of DoA as a game franchise is the fact that it features scantily clad women beating the hell out of each other. In fact, one of the only things I knew about the game franchise was one of my friends gushing about how their boobies bounce in the game. I know: I need to get new friends. It makes sense then that the main characters would be female; but, while they are scantily clad at times, the movie tortures male members of the audience with near-nudity and devious camera shots. When it comes to T&A, DoA is a giant cock-tease – all hinting but no show. Again, this is most likely tied to that PG-13 rating.
In fact, if the movie producers broke down and let this be an R-rated film, this might have been a better picture. Fighting could have lead to deaths. Near-nudity could have led to nudity. And hey, the near-porn quality dialogue might have been a little less noticeable if it had led to people getting naked (the same goes for Eric Roberts’s porn quality hairstyle). Instead, the movie approaches being a decent exploitation flick, but falls short. I guess we can all hope for an unrated DVD release.
A harder rating wouldn’t have fixed all of the movie’s problems, however. Each of the main characters is introduced through some sort of conflict that provides us with their motivation for getting involved with the DoA tournament. Most of these sub-plot ideas disappear as the fighters are brought together by Donovan (Eric Roberts) to fight in the tournament. At that point, the story focuses on fighting with some decent combat sequences that lie somewhere between great showcases of choreography and terrible MTVesque editing. In the movie’s third act, however, everything gets pushed aside for a ridiculous plot development that locks most of the main characters up, renders them unable to fight, and makes Donovan the fighter to beat. That’s right – imagine Eric Roberts with a shaggy porn hairstyle in a martial arts stance and try not to laugh. At that point the movie completely abandons its own concept and loses the way just like fighter game adaptations before it. There isn’t even much purpose to the little character development we got with most of the characters out of the picture. I could literally feel my rating and appreciation for the movie drop as the last twenty minutes of the movie played on.
As a video game adaptation, DoA: Dead or Alive isn’t terrible. It’s actually quite enjoyable as a guilty pleasure picture for the first two-thirds of the flick. If you like mediocre filming of martial arts fights conducted by women who could just be that much more naked, this is probably right up your alley. As a mainstream film, however, DoA is reminiscent of the parts of Crouching Tiger: Hidden Dragon that were left on the editing room floor. We’ve seen these moves done better with more meaning behind them, and I can always just go for porn if I want nudity.