There always used to be a certain comfort-zone with films adapted from videogames, where quality standards were so low that making a semi-watchable guilty pleasure like ‘Resident Evil’ was something of a triumph. Then ‘Silent Hill’ came along & changed expectations of what a videogame movie could do, so it’s something of a disappointment to report that with DOA the genre has taken a step backwards. It’s a shame really, although in fairness as videogame adapts go, DOA is a reasonable effort which I’d take over ‘Streetfighter’ or ‘Tomb Raider’ any day, & one which can sit quite happily on the shelf marked “guilty pleasure” next to ‘Resident Evil Apocalypse’ & ‘House of the Dead’.
The plot is pretty simple, as a group of fighters (each the best in the world at their own particular style) are called to a remote island to take part in a tournament, where the winner will collect a huge cash prize. Each combatant has their own reason for taking part – e.g. Princess Kasumi (Devon Aoki) is searching for her brother who apparently died at the tournament the previous year, wrestler Tina (Jaime Pressley) is out to prove herself as not a fake fighter, etc. Heck, even the tournament’s organiser Donavon (Eric Roberts) has his own reason for the event, which inevitably is some nefarious evil scheme which completely takes over the “plot” in the films third act.
Obvious touchstones are ‘Mortal Kombat’ & ‘Charlie’s Angels’, & the film does a good job of matching or exceeding their brainless fun appeal. Sadly the memories it evokes of ‘Enter the Dragon’ hamper the film, as otherwise you may not remember how such simple plotting can be turned into gold. Still, I didn’t actually notice the weakness of the non-plot too much, since I was spending more time cringing at the stilted speech-bubble dialogue, with its painfully wooden delivery from pretty much every cast member.
But you know what? It actually doesn’t really matter too much – if you go into DOA expecting a gripping narrative & razor-sharp dialogue, you really ought to stop outside & think again. Because that’s absolutely not what this film is about – even though there’s no reason why it couldn’t have those as well, it simply is not what the film is aiming for in the first place. No, the appeal of DOA is a very simple one – lots of fight scenes, mostly featuring attractive women wearing not many clothes. If you saw the surprisingly decent action flick ‘So Close’ from director Corey Yuen (a Jet Li collaborator best known in the west for ‘The Transporter’), you’ll know that it’s a combination he can really pull off, even when it comes to featuring actresses with no previous martial arts experience. And he does it again here – although none of the moves in the action scenes can hold a candle to say ‘Tom Yum Goong’ or ‘Fearless’, Yuen is a master at knowing how the use the camera in order to make the action look more impressive & exciting than it actually is. Somewhat surprisingly, the vast majority of the action was done by the stars of the film themselves, albeit cunningly helped by wires, CG, & editing. And when he’s got a performer capable of the doing the moves (as in Kane Kosugi‘s Hayabusa), Yuen knows to hold back long enough to let us see what the guy’s doing.
Visually it’s a slick & stylish bit of nonsense, which is as well really since it’s counting on the eye candy to keep the brain from worrying about how unrelentingly superficial the film is. Although quite a bit of the CG effects are obviously just that, somehow with its tongue-in-cheek tone & videogame origins, it all seems like part of the fun. Heck, during the early rounds when someone is defeated, the words “KO” appear onscreen with the winner’s name – just like in the game. In-game footage was stupidly out-of-place in ‘House of the Dead’, but utilising that approach works here, as the tone is right. Referencing the likes of ‘House of Flying Daggers’ & ‘Hero’ (the film was in fact filmed in China with a predominantly Chinese crew), there’s some good use of colours & backgrounds to make the succession of fight sequences varied & interesting.
Principal in the eye candy stakes though (as in the game) are the girls. Frequently wearing rather small bikinis (although bust sizes are rather toned down in comparison with the games), the girls certainly look the business & for teenage boys used to playing with their joysticks that’s all they really need to do. Heck, I can’t say as I wasn’t entertained by watching Holly Valance taking out three guys whilst in the process putting her bra on, or Sarah Carter doing, well anything frankly.
Ultimately DOA is not anything like a great film, but then it’s hardly aiming for the status of art. Its ambitions are set so low (essentially hot babes fighting & playing volleyball whilst wearing not much clothing) that it seems rather mean-spirited to rip it to shreds. It’s flashy, empty & probably bad for you, but it’s also good-looking & if you approach it in the right frame of mind, passable escapist brain-free entertainment, that skips by in around one hour & a quarter, & lingers in the memory even less.
The UK R2/PAL DVD from Universal comes with a typically strong anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer with Dolby 5.1 audio in English or Italian. For extras, there’s a series of deleted scenes, plus a rather weak “making of”, full of EPK interview soundbites & about half of which is clips from the film. Hardly stellar stuff, but then this isn’t really the kind of film you’d probably want to watch hours of documentaries or commentaries about. A decent rental to go with pizza & copious amounts of beer, but probably not one you’ll need to own – unless you’re a hormonal teenage boy, that is!