DOA: Dead or Alive

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Do you like it when attractive young women fight each other while wearing clothing that does not cover very much of their bodies? Do you imagine you could watch 85 minutes of this without getting tired of it? If so, then I invite you to test that theory by watching “DOA: Dead or Alive.” I suspect that no matter how fond you are of hot, scantily-clad gladiatrixes, the limits of your appreciation will be reached and exceeded when the action is unconvincing, cartoonish, and reliant on invisible wires. Even the horniest devotee of quasi-nude lady pugilists will find himself sighing aloud and checking his watch when bombarded with video-game-style flesh-peddling such as this. Or at least that is my hope.

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Like 88 percent of all Hollywood films, “DOA: Dead or Alive” is based on a video game in which characters use their fists and feet to kill one another. (To be fair, those activities comprise a significant portion of real life, too.) In this particular instance, there is a martial-arts tournament called Dead or Alive held every year at a Buddhist temple on a private island in the Pacific. (As you know, kicking the crap out of people was one of Buddha’s favorite recreations.) This tournament is only open to the fighters with the keenest skills and highest cheekbones. Whoever wins gets $10 million. The losers, contrary to the tournament’s name, do not die. They simply lose. In fact, no one is supposed to die. In fact, when someone died last year, it was kind of a big deal. So the “Dead or Alive” moniker is a bit of a misnomer, and whoever’s funding this thing — I assume it’s Halliburton — should reconsider.

Among this year’s invitees is ninja Princess Kasumi (Devon Aoki), sister of the guy who died last year. Ninja Princess Kasumi lives in Japan and is not permitted to leave the palace grounds or else the royal guard will be honor-bound to kill her, because it is apparently the 1600s or thereabouts in the Japan where ninja Princess Kasumi lives. Eager to participate in the tournament and investigate her brother’s death, she escapes the guards by leaping over a wall and opening a collapsible hang-glider (note: she has a collapsible hang-glider) that safely conveys her to the ground far below.

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It’s all downhill from there, realism-wise. Next we meet Tina (Jaime Pressly), a professional wrestler, and Christie (Holly Valance), an assassin and safecracker. These ladies, like Kasumi, prefer to conduct their daily affairs unencumbered by clothing. They seek any excuse to put on a swimsuit, or to use a brassiere as a weapon. The girls are also resentful of the laws of gravity and seldom abide by them. If you’re one of those old fuddy-duddies who think people should wear clothing appropriate for the situation and plummet earthward at a rate of 9.81 meters per second squared when dropped from a height, Kasumi & Tina & Christie will not go out with you! They will point and giggle at you from across the bar while putting on Daisy Duke shorts and running up walls.

There are 16 competitors in DOA, 13 of whom are not Kasumi & Tina & Christie. One of them is Tina’s father, Bass (Kevin Nash), also a professional wrestler, and played by an actual professional wrestler. One of them is Zack (Brian White), a swaggering braggart with the hots for Tina. One of them is Max (Matthew Marsden), Christie’s suave safecracking partner, who has forged an invitation so that he can crack the island’s safe and make off with the cash reserved for the winner. One of them is Hayabusa (Kane Kosugi), Kasumi’s dead brother’s best friend, who is supposed to keep an eye on the princess, so I guess it’s lucky that he was invited.

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The other competitor with whom you need concern yourself is Helena (Sarah Carter), the blond, 21-year-old daughter of DOA’s founder. Her old man died not long ago, and never got to see his little girl live up to her potential as a hot chick who fights people. Running the program in his place is his associate, Donovan (Eric Roberts), who is clearly the bad guy, clearly killed Helena’s father, clearly has something nefarious in mind for the competitors, et cetera. I trust that when the mathematical proof ends with “Eric Roberts is the bad guy,” I do not need to show my work.

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Here is how this tournament operates. You hang around the island, which, apart from the skyscraper-size Buddha statue, resembles a beach resort. Play some volleyball, relax in the hot tub, have sex with the other competitors — do whatever you want to do, as long as it doesn’t require a lot of clothes. Eventually the cool wristwatch they gave you when you arrived will beep and show you the name of the person you’ve been scheduled to fight. You drop whatever you’re doing and fight that person, and whoever’s still conscious at the end goes to the next round. Participants are encouraged to conduct their fights wherever they happen to be when they get the announcement, so a lot of bedrooms and lobbies and dining halls suffer some serious property damage. I wonder if the tournament is always this destructive, or if this is just a particularly brutal bunch of fighters. I can’t imagine the board of directors approving the expenses to replace all the windows and furniture every single year, not when they’re already laying out $10 million for the winner and goodness knows how much in maintenance, property taxes, giant-Buddha-statue polish, etc.

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And so there is a lot of fighting. I know I’ve said this before about other movies, but I swear to you, this movie is 85 minutes long yet somehow contains well over 1,000 minutes of fighting. I’m sorry for the other times I’ve said it because THIS is the movie where there really is a lot more fighting than would seem to be mathematically possible. And yet it’s not real fighting. It’s people who have learned the basics but are then attached to wires and put in front of green screens and made to do things that are physically impossible, floating and flying and leaping like figures in a video game. It’s probably fun when you’re the one controlling them. When you’re watching actors do it, all you can think is, What kind of monster-human hybrid can cause a person to fly backward 30 feet with one punch? And: How does a person jump, do two flips, kick a guy in the head, and land, all before the sword she threw in the air hits the ground?

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I feel like I should mention the scene where Tina’s father walks into her room and finds her sharing a bed with Christie, which she is only doing because Christie’s own room was destroyed during a fight, and Tina’s dad thinks his daughter is a lesbian, and he is much more turned on by the idea than he ought to be. On second thought, I feel like I should not mention this scene at all.

Would it surprise you to learn that Kasumi’s brother isn’t dead after all, and that Donovan has been holding him prisoner? It would? Then don’t read that last sentence. It has a spoiler. Donovan has also injected each of the fighters with nanobots to harvest their data, and once he downloads this information into himself, he will be the single greatest fighter in the world, because that’s how that works. For some reason, this nanobot-harvested fighting prowess is passed to Donovan by way of a special pair of sunglasses, and so all you have to do to take Donovan’s power away is knock the sunglasses off his head, which turns out to be as easy as it sounds.

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Like most Buddhist temples and beach resorts, this one is equipped with a self-destruct button for the villain to push as a last-ditch effort. Like all 3-minute countdown timers, it takes about half an hour to count down. The place blows up; Donovan is killed; the main characters get away; and the other competitors who had already been eliminated from the tournament but had not yet left the island die, I guess, probably. Their fate is not mentioned, and who cares, anyway? The important thing is that the hot chicks escaped without ever appearing to be in any real danger, and they’ll be able to jiggle another day. This is a movie made by people who said, “Pretty ladies fighting! What else does a movie need?!” and didn’t realize the question was not rhetorical.

— Film.com