Friday, March 2, 2012

D.O.A.: Dead or Alive (2006)

     At some point in putting this project together, it must have occurred to the producers that hampering D.O.A.: Dead or Alive (2006) with an engaging story would be impractical.  After all, the entire point of the movie is to have some mid-level martial arts action that looks somewhat glossy and stylized.  In that regards, D.O.A. is a modest success.  Sure, there isn't much satisfaction if one wants a degree of brutality in the action, and there is a severe lack of dead.  And it is hard to pull off a film version of empowered women running around without much in the way of clothing, but D.O.A. does the best it can.
     Why it works on some level is because it essentially is admitting from start to finish that it is a vehicle for a video game concept.  There is no attempt to build a lengthy, leaden mythology that explains why there is a need for characters to fight.  Martial artists – be they Japanese ninja princesses, high-end thieves, or professional wrestlers – are going to fight; why not be honest and just have them in a contest where there is not much else going on.
There are people who see Aoki and think, "Maximum ugly."
     Given that many members of the cast do not possess great acting chops, D.O.A. smartly avoids giving them much to say or think about.  Sure, Devon Aoki goes through the movie with a blank look plastered on her face and Holly Valance cannot find a consistent tone for her character, but the film really only suffers when Jaime Pressly opens her mouth to speak and the audience is exposed to her mumble-drawl version of an exaggerated Southern accent.  Maybe there are people who don't find that voice the most aggravating sound on the planet – hell, there are apparently people who are convinced that Devon Aoki is flat-out ugly – but I am would not be one of them.
     The male cast gets to play supporting role to the capable female characters, mostly to good comic effect.  Again, this isn't high art, and it may not even be art, but it is slightly more than mildly entertaining.  Eric Roberts, long removed from his Best of the Best (1989 for the original, 1993 for the sequel) days, looks comfortable and oddly believable as the bad guy who has a technological edge in his fighting style.  Steve Howey gets to play sweet and (a restrained kind of) goofy, which are strengths for him.  A few others populate the screen – Robin Shou, star of two Mortal Combat films (1995, 1997) gets a bit part as a pirate – but they are only there to serve the ladies.
Sure, why not play volleyball before fighting for $1 million?
    Don't get me wrong; the film has a lot of problems.  There is no reason for most of the characters to interact with one another.  There is no explanation for why the bad guy wants to steal the moves from the ladies when the supposed best martial artist ever is already on hand and his mojo can be likewise appropriated.  There is no reason – other than it fits the video games – why a martial arts tournament is also a tropical vacation with beach volleyball and a top-end DJ for the dance party. 
     Everyone involved seemed to acknowledge that trying to make D.O.A. more than it is would only weigh it down and make the ridiculousness of the concept even more glaring, and it wouldn't give the audience what they want to see.  The movie isn't as crisp as it could have been.  The ladies don't have fight acting down to a science, but it looks decent enough – better than most Western action films.  It also relies too heavily on the wire harnesses and overdone choreography that was out of style by 2006, but it at least has a good energy to it.
     In the realm of bad movies that are fun to watch, D.O.A. is one of the better ones.  More than that, it is also quite short (about 6 of its 87 minute running time are the closing credits).  It is digestible and light.  When compared to how other video game titles have been mangled as feature films, this is a masterpiece; it never has the audience thinking it is anything but an adaptation – one that actually enjoys the source material.

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