When D.O.A. (2006) was announced the movie going public met the news with a collective shrug. Sure, it is a popular video game series but fan expectation has been dulled because most video game to film adaptations have stunk. Games with a mythology like Silent Hill or Resident Evil were reconfigured into flesh and blood with middling results, and those without much of a story to draw from , mainly fighting games like Streetfighter or Mortal Combat, ended up terrible or falling fairly flat. But you know, they keep churning them out. There is money to be made, and, in terms of embarrassment, Super Mario Bros. set the bar exceedingly low.
When the studio pegged action ace Corey Yuen (Righting Wrongs, Fong Sai Yuk, The Transporter) as D.O.A.'s director, it actually got put on action fans radar. He's one of the men responsible for bringing about the modern wave of Hong Kong, female driven action films in the 80's, like one of its earliest standout classics Yes Madam, to She Shoots Straight and Blond Fury, continuing pretty strong in recent years with the likes of So Close. With that news, D.O.A. now had at the least the tiny possibility of not totally stinking up the place.
The movie was shot. Got a release date. Then it was delayed... *crickets*... Nothing happened. Yep, inevitably ol' D.O.A. gets the small push overseas but in the US it is damned to Direct-to-Videoville. When you consider the dreck that major studios dump out every year, it looks pretty bad when they have no faith they'll even come close to making back their (by studio standards low budget) $20 million with a theatrical release in one of the lukewarm or cold attendance months.
The end result is pretty much as you'd expect. Not entirely awful but, despite its self awareness of being a cheesy action vehicle, not entirely successful either. Its fun. Its dumb. Hot chicks. Lame fights. Moves at a good, entertaining pace, but the story, action, and performances are, for the most part, forgettable.
My biggest chuckle while reviewing the DVD came about when I watched the sole significant extra "making of" featurette. One of the producers states that as a game fan he wasn't sure it could be adapted until he read the pitch script and a light bulb went off. Why is that funny? Because the script features one of the most repeated gags in martial filmdom, the Enter the Dragon "good guys enter tournament held by an evil bad guy" plot. Any moron could instruct his pet monkey to dash out that idea - the ones behind D.O.A. were Under Siege and Pretty Woman scribe J.F. Lawton and the limited writing credits of the Gross bothers. Besides, D.O.A. is a fighting game, there really isn't a story so there is no "adapting" to accomplish. A writer had free reign to concoct any number of scenarios. The fact that they chose the easiest, most cliched, and admittedly natural storytelling route possible for a fight film and the producer counts it as a stroke of genius cracks me up.
The Charlie's Angelslike focus of the film is on the three leads, played by Jamie Pressly, Devon Aoki, and Holly Valance. They are among a group of fighters summoned to an island to participate in an annual martial arts tournament. Pressely gets the only nod for energy by actually putting forth some effort in her characterization and physical performance as the sassy wrestler Tina Armstrong, who is just out to prove herself as a kickass chick. Of the three she actually comes across quite well in the fights and commands her scenes with brashness and confidence. Holly Valance plays Christie, a posh thief out to steal the riches to be found on the island. Good looking, some sexy sizzle, but a total washout in the fight department. Then there is Devon Aoki as Kasumi. By far the meatiest role in the film, Kasumi is a member of a secret ninja clan out to discover what happened to her brother (Collin Chou) who never returned from the previous tournament. Aoki is not only odd looking* but dead weight as an actress and stunt performer. She is constantly wooden: blank facial expressions, unconvincing, non-emotive line delivery, and physically unimposing. Aoki's role should have been filled by any number of modern Asian-starlets, from Shu Qi to Maggie Q, who have proven that they have the action and acting chops.
In the Shek Kin bad guy role is Eric Roberts. Between Best of the Best 1&2 and this part, he's probably cashed in all his martial arts chips. Still, considering the bulk of the performances Robert's gets the job done. The bad guy scheme is some techno-hokum about injecting fighters with nano technology, gathering info of their fight style/strengths, and downloading it into some Blue Blocker sunglasses that aid you in defeating any opponent. Yeah, in the realm of silly bad guy schemes, this one is among the silliest.
But, its not about the plot. It is a bout Maxim-meets-martial-arts, young girls in skimpy outfits, preened to perfection, the camera lovingly (and PG-13 perversely) focusing on their assets as they kick and punch the baddies and each other. And, yeah, they all look pretty hot. As I said earlier, Pressly is the standout and makes a good impression in two of her solo fight scenes. The guys don't get much to do but Kane Kosugi, son of Sho Kosugi and a veteran of martial arts flicks since he was a wee one, does get to show off some moves. While plentiful, the action is kept pretty short and heavy on stylistic tricks (slow motion, CGI, and wirework) for pizazz and no doubt to compensate for its lacking of experienced stunt performers who didn't grow up enduring the rigors of Peking Opera training. For instance, Valance best scene is her character intro where some cops try to arrest her as she has just emerged from the shower. Clad in only a towel, she seductively slips on a pair of panties, then as she takes her bra from an officer, she kicks his gun and her bra in the air, towel whips and disposes of the other cops, before smoothly catching and putting on her falling brasserie.
The sole reason D.O.A. comes up short has nothing to do with its budget, its look, its fight choreography, or its performers. In those areas it lives up to the expectations one has for this kind of empty entertainment, cartoonish action film. The problem is that despite its consciousness and revelatory nature about what kind of b-film it is- throwaway plotting, one-dimensional characters, and the like- the film is almost utterly witless. In terms of one-liners, you actually get stuff like a dated "Show me the money" reference. The character dialogue and subplots are just bland, lifeless, and executed without any imagination. The hope was probably that the action would let you forgive this aspect, but that only works if you have the time to film elaborate choreography and a cast that deliver when it comes to complex stuntwork. Yes, the material calls for the girls not getting too mussed up, but take the same script and director, travel back in time twenty years and put Michelle Yeah, Cynthia Khan, and Cynthia Rothrock in it and you'd probably would have an action classic and even possibly a film that wouldn't get dumped as a straight-to-DVD release.
The DVD: Weinstein Company.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. While the seams of the generated backgrounds are pretty obvious and reveal the films lower budget, for the most part, the films imagery pops with all the soft focus sunniness of a men's magazine. As such, the DVD transfer is very decent with well-rendered colors, contrast, and sharpness. Honestly, with so much oogle I coulda have lost focus and missed an error or two. Hey, I'm a man and well-put together girlie parts do that to me. The palette of vivid hues is especially impressive. Technically there is some slight edge enhancement but otherwise no severe glitches or artifacts.
Sound: 5.1 English or French language tracks with English (for the hearing impaired) and Spanish subtitles. The audio presentation is crisp and responsive. The score was utterly forgettable, mainly the typical rolling percussion and technoish strains that accompany most modern action films. The fx is quite lively and, go figure, gives adequate punch to the punches.
Extras: Trailer. -- "East Meets West: Behind the Action" Featurette (11:02). Pretty standard promo piece with the focus on the cast talking about the particulars, like making a film in China with an HK director and the rigors of the stuntwork.
Conclusion: Though it was passable, cheeseball fun, I can only suggest D.O.A. as a rainy day rental. The DVD presentation is fine but the film is light and not likely to win over any action fans. Its main audience is likely to be well-monitored, horny, pubescent kids who don't have access to "pron" and manage to convince their mothers it is okay to check it out at Blockbuster.
*Pasty complexion. Mump-cheeked. Toneless body. Normally I'd apologize for being superficial about an actress appearance but not in this case since it is a big focus of the film.