Stop me if you've heard this one... A handful of elite fighters from around the globe are invited to a remote island to participate in a winner-take-all martial arts tournament. As the contest rages on, alliances are formed, personal scores are settled, romantic relationships are established, and a sinister plot by the mysterious organizer of the tournament is uncovered. Before the fists stop flying, a handful of intrepid finalists must band together to take down the villain and save the world as we know it.
It would be easy to just dismiss the film adaptation of the popular DEAD OR ALIVE videogame series as derivative, uninspired dreck. As indicated, the plot is stolen from the Bruce Lee-Robert Clouse epic ENTER THE DRAGON and another clone of that kung fu classic (also based on a videogame), MORTAL KOMBAT. The performances of stars Devon Aoki and Kane Kosugi (son of 80s martial arts legend Sho Kosugi) are so flat that they inadvertently invoke the bad dubbing of Hong Kong action films released in the English-speaking world. Eric Roberts phones in his turn as a smirking antagonist oozing Sci-Fi Channel villainy so overtly that even viewers not familiar with the formula or the B-list actor will know right away that he's up to no good. His plan for global domination is completely ridiculous and unfortunately does more to undermine the film's suspense than add to it. Equally leaden and forced are most of the romantic subplots, which invariably pair up the likable female protagonists with unlikely, uninteresting, and superfluous male ciphers. By all rights, D.O.A. should be a laughable bore. Thankfully, the filmmakers understood that two elements are absolutely vital when attempting to adapt to the screen fantasy games about buxom, scantily-clad women engaged in high-octane martial arts battles - buxom, scantily-clad women, and high-octane martial arts battles. In these areas, D.O.A. delivers, above and beyond the call of duty.
The gorgeous cast includes the baby-faced Aoki, BLOODRAYNE II star Natassia Malthe, SHARK regular Sarah Carter, Australian model and singer Holly Valance, and Emmy Award-winner Jaime Pressly. Though Aoki's acting isn't very good, she handles the physical stuff capably, and any doubts about her casting will be forgotten the moment she trades in her ceremonial gowns for a string bikini for the obligatory beach volleyball scene (for those who don't know, the best selling DOA game is not a fighting title at all, but a jiggly volleyball simulation). Malthe isn't given ample opportunity to display her exotic beauty, but does get one of the best fight scenes in the film - a slick sword duel with Aoki in a field of bamboo trees. Carter is cute and amiable as the flighty, flirty Helena, the bikini-clad, roller skating daughter of the tournament's late founder. Valance is smoldering hot as the leggy, larcenous Christie, a lethal blonde temptress capable of making even the most mature male viewer's tongue hang out involuntarily. Christie's slow-motion, rain-soaked showdown with Helena is a sexy highlight, but it's her au natural introduction in a Hong Kong hotel room that really sets the tone for the rest of the show.
Pressly is an American national treasure. Not only does her eye-popping physique redefine the term "hardbody", but she never fails to bring a self-deprecating sense of humor to her roles. As the bitchy, trashy Joy on the sitcom MY NAME IS EARL, she steals virtually every scene she's in. She brings that same boundless energy and fun (minus the trailer park crudeness) to her role as Tina, a former pro wrestler hoping to use the DOA tournament to prove her legitimacy as a fighter. Pressly is athletic enough to be completely convincing when she's kicking the snot out of her opponents (including a gang of would-be pirates led by MORTAL KOMBAT star Robin Shou), shapely enough to make her skimpy wardrobe (including a red, white, and blue G-string) a star of the movie in its own right, and charismatic enough to make her dual subplots (a semi-romantic rivalry with a hotshot fighter, and a humorous love-hate relationship with her "good old' boy" father, played by wrestler Kevin Nash) the most interesting sidebars in the entire film. It would be tough to overstate her importance to D.O.A. - or to any movie or TV show in which she appears, for that matter.
The battles here are both stylish and satisfying, combining great cinematography and editing with excellent wirework and just the right amount of restraint in the CG department. Slick, overproduced fight scenes have become so prevalent in the action genre in the wake of THE MATRIX and CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON that they are often a liability, too unbelievable to be engaging and too rapid fire to be coherent. Thankfully, director Corey Yuen is a seasoned veteran of both Hong Kong and Hollywood kung fu cinema (having worked with such top-tier talent as Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Michelle Yeoh, Cynthia Rothrock, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jet Li, and Jason Statham), so he knows how to keep the action moving without allowing it to become an exercise in hollow special effects trickery. More importantly, he understands that when the narrative starts getting in the way of the fun, it's time to strip the ladies down to their two-pieces and let the butt-kicking commence in earnest.
D.O.A.: DEAD OR ALIVE is slick eye candy that never takes itself too seriously, an aesthetically-pleasing, unchallenging time-waster that should entertain both martial arts and videogame fans alike. Men and teenage boys will appreciate the physical beauty of the stars, while female viewers will find the characters tough and resourceful enough that they won´t be put off by all of the blatant cheesecake on display. Despite its many flaws, the film delivers on the promise of the game franchise and provides enough sexy action and humor to make it worthwhile popcorn fluff.