Tuesday, May 31, 2011

DOA: Dead or Alive (2006)

Directed by Corey Yuen
Starring Jaime Pressly, Devon Aoki, Holly Valance
Rated PG-13
USA

“The nanobots were working overtime on that fight.”

doa-dead-or-alive-coverDOA is probably the most egregious fuck-up of a license of the past decade. Granted, video game movies in general are almost exclusively egregious fuck-ups of licenses (and time and effort and money). DOA though, oh man, it really takes things one step further. I have no idea if the games are any good, or even the details of the basic plot of said games, but I do know that when you’re presented with a chance to make a movie about women who are invited to go to an island and fight in a tournament, you don’t fuck it up. You make The Lost Empire. It really is that simple.

People going to an island to fight in a tournament is pretty much my favourite genre of film, thanks to efforts like The Lost Empire, and Enter the Dragon, and so on. It’s a fool proof plot device. You don’t even have to work that hard with the characters once you’ve got that bit set up. All you have to do is have some people from different backgrounds who get an invitation and then the guy holding it is a bad guy and there’s awesome fight scenes and then some stuff blows up and everyone goes home. The Jim Wynorski school of film making teaches us that if it happens to be predominately women who are invited, you throw in boobs. Cut. Print. Everyone’s a winner.

A point well worth noting that should tell you everything you need to know about the film: it was written by JF Lawton, who also gave the world Pretty Woman. Also, it was made in 2005, so Junkie XL does the soundtrack and the camera won’t stay still for a single fucking second.

doaDOA was enough of a stinker that after being completed in 2005, it didn’t even see a release until the next year. And even then, it was only in Australia and New Zealand. And even then, it was really only because it featured Holly Valance (better known locally as bikini-wearer Flick from the long running soap Neighbours, and for that song she did where it looks like she’s naked in the film clip) in her first screen role. In fact, they came up with different, Holly Vallance-centric posters to reflect this. Eventually, in 2007, it managed a release in the US, but it still (even after DVD releases) only made back $7 million of its $21 million budget.

$21 million! Bloody hell. Can you imagine what Jim Wynorski could have done with that kind of money if they’d asked him to make this? He could have made 21 sequels to The Lost Empire and still had change left over. Total fuckin’ waste, man.

To get things started, we’re introduced to the characters. There’s Kasumi (perpetually blank-faced and charisma-free supermodel Devon Aoki), who’s a princess of some kind. Oh and her brother is dead. Helpfully, this is all explained in the first line of the film.

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“Princess Kasumi. Your brother is dead. Your destiny is to lead your people,” says servant/friend/whatever Hayabusa (Kane Kosugi, son of ‘80s ninja-superstar Sho Kosugi, who should really know better).

Apparently, if she doesn’t lead her people, they’ll send fearsome purple haired sword-wielder Ayane (Natassia Malthe) after her to kill her. 

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Kosumi doesn’t really care and just walks off and then jumps off the castle turret. Fortunately she has a hang-glider and then gets an invite to the tournament in mid-glide.

Meanwhile, Tina (a wretchedly miscast Jaime Pressly) sits on a boat and fights some pirates and also gets an invite.

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In Hong Kong, Christie (Holly Valance) wears a towel and is interrogated by an American cop for some reason. Then she fights them while her bra is flicked into the air. Thanks to the wonders of CGI and the idiocy of jumping editing and swishy camera work, it’s apparently possible to make a scene about Holly Valance fighting without a top boring.

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Oh and she gets an invite and then some other stuff happens and they get to the island. There’s some brief respite from the terminal dullness when we meet tournament organiser Donovan (Eric Roberts, taking full advantage of the fact that everyone else’s character is lifeless by chewing up every moment of screen time he gets).

He has his staff perform medical exams on everyone and also injects them with nanobots. Or something. Then everyone fights and it looks exactly like a video game.

There’s fucking life bars, man.

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There’s even text on screen to let you know who wins each round.

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Honestly, 30 minutes in and you’re probably ready to go and do something else or eat a sandwich or some biscuits already. The fight scenes are interminable – the camera is constantly moving and panning and so forth, which makes it impossible to actually get involved.

It doesn’t help that practically every movement is unbelievable, and director Corey Yuen definitely should know better, having cut his teeth on some bland but watchable Hong Kong fare back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. You can pack in wire work, and even touch it up with a little CGI if you must, but there’s got to be a level of believability there to balance it out. For a great example, see Iron Monkey - the ridiculous stuff is the icing, not the whole cake.

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Some dialogue scenes are awkwardly mashed in, and it turns out that Kasumi doesn’t really think her brother is dead. “Donovan is lying,” she tells Hayabusa. “He says Leon killed Hayate, above the Buddha head.”

“Why would he lie?” Hayabusa asks.

“I am convinced he's hiding the truth,” she replies.

God damnit. It’s not even funny stupid. It’s just stupid stupid.

Then there’s a beach volley ball game, which is as uninteresting as the fights for exactly the same reason the fights are uninteresting. Also the ball is CGI.

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Oh, and there’s a fight in a bamboo forest between Kasumi and Ayane. All it really does is remind you that House of Flying Daggers and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were both good films.

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Anyway, turns out Donovan is evil and he’s been using the nanobots to record the fighters moves (including Kasumi’s brother, who is alive) so he can upload them into his magic sunglasses. Then he can predict all their moves and become the best fighter in the world and also sell it to other criminals.

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$21 million and we end up with magic sunglasses as the major plot device. Fucking unbelievable.

Then there’s a fight and the whole place blows up and all the good guys survive and go home. Sweet merciful ending.

It’s absolutely beyond me how you take a premise like that and turn it into such a flaccid, lifeless horror. Well, actually, I suppose the way you do it is to get the guy who wrote Pretty Woman to write it, but either way, it’s truly awful – every second of it.

Just go and watch The Lost Empire instead.

- Alistair Wallis

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