Written by Caballero Oscuro
DOA: Dead or Alive might as well be called Dead on Arrival for its overall chances of box-office success this weekend, but here’s the surprise: it’s a fun guilty pleasure! Sure, your head might hurt if you try to make any sense out of the paper-thin plot, but if you’re going to this film for the story, you’re in the wrong place anyway. It fully delivers on what it promises: babes in bikinis and hot martial arts action. What’s more, it’s easily the most entertaining film inspired by a video game to date (sorry, Uwe Boll).
The film is based on a long-running fighting game series legendary for its stunning graphics and supernaturally bouncy heroines. The game characters have also been transitioned to a beach volleyball side series that factors into the film as well. While the games have basic storylines, the real attractions are the fast-paced matches and stunning characters and backgrounds, traits they share with this film.
So how do you make a film out of a fighting game? First, hire a competent action director, which they’ve covered quite nicely here with veteran Hong Kong action auteur Corey Yuen (The Transporter, So Close). Next, sign some attractive young lasses with moderate name recognition, again well-done with a genetically superior cast headed by Jaime Pressly and Devon Aoki. Finally, add in skimpy outfits and outlandish fighting moves and simmer to perfection.
The story finds the ladies (and a few men) traveling to an exotic resort island to challenge each other in a tournament to determine the best fighter. Fights can be staged at any time, so the contestants wear electronic bracelets to alert them to their next match. Minor subplots are thrown in, such as the relationships between Tina (Pressly) and her father as well as Kasumi (Aoki) and her brother, but the main attraction is the tournament. Of course there’s an evil villain behind the whole tournament, and there’s no denying the film has completely earned classic B-movie status when the baddie turns out to be Eric Roberts. There are no major surprises in the main plot, it’s strictly a fight to the finish where the best contestants face off in the final boss battle to save the world.
Yuen keeps the action moving at all times, never letting the pace slow down. He expertly stages and films all of the fights, particularly a gorgeous match in the rain on the beach. The film contains plenty of amazing action feats that will leave viewers alternately awestruck and grimacing in sympathetic pain, although the overall effect is kept mostly light-hearted due to the exhibition nature of the tournament. The tropical beach setting makes for some spectacular backdrops for the fights, and also allows for a 2-on-2 bikini volleyball match that rivals Top Gun for sexiest volleyball game ever.
There are no stellar acting performances to single out, although Pressly gets the most mileage out of her twangy Southern character. On the action front, all of the primary characters seem to hold their own admirably in performing their fair share of the stunts. They’re cute, they’re perky, and they kick ass, putting this film in the same class as D.E.B.S., Aoki’s previous B-movie acronym gem. Dead or Alive is a long way from Shakespeare, but it’s a breezy, action-packed diversion sure to entertain viewers willing to check their brains at the door.