Apparently no one told Dimension Films this same formula wouldn’t be a winner in 2006, as they distributed DOA: Dead or Alive, a film that probably would have been a surefire hit if only it could have been released in 1996. For those that aren’t familiar with the videogame franchise, in a genre that guarantees at least one unattainably hot woman who knows karate, DOA goes a step above by offering a bunch of really hot women that know karate. In fact, the franchise is so synonymous with creepy fan-service that they’ve released two non-fighting games where the girls can play volleyball, sit around the pool, or “butt battle.”
In the film, the princess of some tiny Asian nation (Sin City’s Devon Aoki) still acting like it’s the Feudal era is told that if she leaves in search of her brother, she’ll be killed. In fact, the princess’ purple-haired half-sister Ayane promises to do it herself. Princess Kasumi leaves anyway, immediately receiving a flying digital shuriken inviting her to DOA.
Meanwhile, in the ocean, professional wrestler Tina (My Name is Earl’s Jaime Pressly) is tanning on her yacht. She rejects an offer from her dad, famous wrestler Bass (Kevin Nash imitating Hulk Hogan) to wrestle some show over the phone when pirates arrive. She beats them literally into the ground (er, boat), before receiving the same invitation.
Tina's father thinks she's a Lesbian just because she's in bed with Christie. This almost never happens to Ryu and Ken.
Finally, professional thief Christie (Holly Valance) comes out of the shower to find Hong Kong police questioning her about a recent theft. After making a few sexual innuendos, she takes out three police officers with a TOWEL in the time it takes her bra to be knocked out of a policeman’s hand and land perfectly on her chest. She also gets invited to DOA.
Somehow all of the contestants end up aboard the same flight, including Tina’s dad Bass, some black dude, Christie’s partner who tried to frame her for her part in a theft, and some other characters that are completely irrelevant because they are not hot chicks. In typical “extreme” fashion, the plane is not actually landing on DOA Island, it’s just flying near the goddamn island, forcing everyone to grab a chute and jump out. As if that wasn’t enough, they have to get to an arbitrary part of the Island by sundown or they are not extreme enough to compete. The three girls end up on the same side of the island and work together to not get eliminated.
I guess the Nanites allow them to create health bars? Or it's just a "hey look this is based on video games!" moment. Also while these are characters in the game they are completely irrelevant to the movie. I'm sure Brad Wong fans were outraged.
We also meet the guy running the tournament, an obvious bad guy named Donovan (a scenery-chewing Eric Roberts) and his nerdy young assistant (Steve Howey, a guy whose biggest acting credit is on Reba’s sitcom), as they reveal the secret, hidden purpose of the fighting tournament. Basically they inject nanites into all the fighters that will learn to copy all their moves, and then sell those nanites to some arms dealers or whoever buys nanites that know martial-arts. Presumably, just having these things will make you awesome at martial arts, even if you are a character actor in your 50’s. Honestly it's best not to think about these things too much.
Over the course of their stay, the girls become friends, also befriending Helena, the daughter of the tournament’s late founder, a blonde girl with roller skates that is also hot and good enough to be in some world-class fighting tournament despite looking like a high schooler at roller disco. When there aren’t Hong Kong wirefights going on, the fighters unwind by hanging out at the beach, playing competitive games of 2 on 2 volleyball. Oh also purple hair girl interrupts the volleyball game to fight Kasumi in an incredibly boring bit.
After a long day of world-class fighting tournaments, who doesn't enjoy a little 2 on 2 beach volleyball?
Unfortunately Christie and Helena have to face each other in the first one on one contest between the girls, leading to a baffling and sexy fight in the rain at the beach in swimsuits. Tina and the black dude meanwhile just beat the shit out of each other in a significantly less sexy fight. Tina and Christie prevail, and are ready to have some sort of sexy fight when the movie completely forgets its premise as a “fighting tournament." Instead, Christie and Tina follow Kasumi to discover the secrets of DOA Island while the nerdy assistant consoles Helena. They find out Donovan’s big secret: that he plans to steal all their fighting moves. They also find Kasumi’s missing brother Hayate, last year’s winner who has been imprisoned for a whole year. Donovan uses a pair of nanite-sunglasses to beat up the freed Hayate, who is probably malnourished anyway. Donovan decides to blow up the island and tells his private army of ineffective ninja goons to deal with the remaining fighters, including Helena and her dopey new pal.
Helena protects her nerdy new boyfriend and the two try to stop the explosion, but can’t. In the meantime, Christie’s no-good ex-partner tries to rob the island’s safe, but his dreams of great wealth are cut short when he realizes the whole island will explode in minutes.
While the side-characters do that junk, the three leads, continue to fight Donovan all over the island, eventually finding themselves at a giant buddha statue where they had to work together the first time. What is this, a PSA for female co-operation? When his glasses eventually fall off, they are able to kick him off the island only seconds before the entire thing explodes. While all the supporting players slide down an emergency exit in case of island explosion, the leads just jump clear of the explosion and fall to the ocean below.
Seeing an opportunity to plunder an exploded islands, the pirates from the beginning show up, but Tina, clinging to a piece of driftwood kicks them off their own boat and picks up the rest of the cast, who are all predictably fine. Refusing to end, the film’s final scene features the four girls plus Hayate showing up in Kasumi’s kingdom where they decide to fight like 500 ninjas at once. And then it just ends. Lead-in for DOA 2? Well, maybe if the movie hadn’t bombed at the box office.
This is one of those movies that are what bad movies are all about. I laughed like 3 times in the opening scene, nominally a dramatic bit between Devon Aoki and her pink-haired half-sister. The dialogue’s subtitles are so hilarious and there is so little presence from any of the actors that it’s a laughably bad scene. The scenes with Pressly and Valance are less outright hilarious but both are pretty ridiculously hot. The other supporting parts are at least competent, and the result is a goofily fun, marketed directly at teenage boys fighting movie that came out far too late to be even a little relevant. What’s nice is that it plays to everyone’s strengths: the fighters fight each other, the comic relief is decent, and the chicks kick people and look hot.
I really enjoyed it. It’s pretty, fun, short, and simple. Everything major action movies of today desperately avoid. It’s not making a “modern” mythology or trying to sell itself as “gritty” or “realistic,” but as a result it’s a goofy, guilty pleasure that at least in spirit feels like it was released in 1996, or at least 2000 (the year Charlie’s Angels came out).
Ayane: I am your servant, but if you leave the compound I am honor-bound to kill you.