Friday, April 25, 2014

DOA - Dead Or Alive Review Part 1

I've talked about the Dead or Alive series before.  Well, specifically I talked about the underage seduction simulator with teenage girls almost running around naked while you photograph them beach volleyball series.

You might recall it wasn't very positive.

However, at it's core, Dead or Alive is a fighting game.  A fighting game with a decent control scheme, great graphics, and a learning curve steeper than the world's most sadistic roller coaster.

For the record, this is just "easy mode."
So, surely it as a series is more than just T&A with girls with suspiciously absent ages, right?

Okay, my first question is "how does she sit down?"  But that's clearly not a young girl costume (or it's the Witchblade), and adults always dress in outfits that almost don't exist in these games.  How about a heroic character who's young?

...yeah, I'm done.

Anyway, there's one other major part of the that I think most people forgot about.  A live action movie starring that woman from My Name Is Earl and the guy who played Super Shredder from the second Ninja Turtles movie!  How can it possibly go wrong?  Well, let's look at it.

Before I watch any movie, I like to do some research about it.  I like to look at some of the details behind the scenes.  I read the Wikipedia page, I look at IMDB, and I try to learn more about the experience in the hopes it'll help me enjoy it more.  Here's what I learned about this one:

Robin Shou makes a cameo as a pirate.  Robin Shou played Liu Kang in the 1995 film Mortal Kombat and its sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, based on the video game created by Ed Boon.

(As to why that's relevant, the guy who directed the two Mortal Kombat movies is the same guy who directed this)


According to Holly Vance, about forty bikinis were ruined while making this film.

I don't know about you, but I have such high hopes for this.

We start out in the Ishikari Mountains in Japan, where Princess Kasumi is being informed of her brother's  untimely death by his (former?) best friend.  We know this, because he says "as your brother's best friend" at one point in the conversation.  Kasumi vows to find him, not believing he's dead if there's no body, but the BFF begs her not to go because leaving with brand her with the shame of being a "shinobi."

A "shinobi," for those of you not in the know, is a mutant who fought the X-Men and is able to control his own molecular density to phase through things or turn as hard as diamond.  Or it's a ninja.  But apparently this is a ninja training center, so I'm not sure why being a ninja here would be a bad thing.

Oh, but since her brother went out on his own, the clan abandoned him, which begs the question how did they know he was dead if there wasn't a body?  Did one of his enemies send this remote monastary on the top of a mountain tweet out "Killed a ninja prince today.  #thereisnobody #butheisreallydead?"

Anyway, Kasumi starts heading for the door, moving through apparently every guard in the compound before a flash of light momentarily blinds her.  She kicks a sword out of a guard's sheath and spins around with it in time to confront Ayane, who apparently wants to kill her for...reasons?

Her brother's best friend calls out "Princess Kasumi" making everybody kneel, but we also learn that Ayane was in love with Kasumi's brother, and even though Kasumi swears to find him, her leaving leaves Ayane honor bound to kill her.  Ninja relationships are a whole soap opera onto themselves.

We get a great shot here that seems to be lifted directly from a lighter version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as Kasumi flings her sword across the courtyard into a wall and runs on the backs of kneeling guards to spring off the sword over the wall and....huh, maybe she didn't think this through.

But that's okay, because it's at this point Kasumi sheds her robe to reveal she's wearing a tank top, shorts, and sneakers underneath it, and what at first looked to be a backpack unfolds to be a hang glider.

As she shoots through the sky, a spinning blade arcs behind her, but she's able to snatch it out of midair, where it presents her with an invitation to the DOA tournament.

This is, quite simply, the most amazing opening ever recorded on film.  It's up there with any of the James Bond openings.  You have ninjas, wire-fu stunts, hang gliders, electric guitar riffs at the perfect's just pure unadulterated fun and it is awesome.

Oh, and there's also a jump-cut showing the events that just happened like you'd get in a video game.  This might be the truest video game to movie transition I've ever seen.

Next up we get a long establishing shot of Tina (Jaime Pressly) emerging from the water in a red, white, and blue bikini onto her yacht so her father can try to talk her into wrestling again in Des Moines.  You know, because she's AMERICAN.  She's even drinking PBR with the logo hidden.  With blue tape.  It's almost surreal that this is the interpretation of an American character created by a Japanese company.

Speaking of Mortal Kombat similarities, Tina's pretty much the movie's Johnny Cage, except instead of being an actor who wants to be taken seriously, she's a wrestler who wants her fighting to be recognized.  So she's like Johnny Cage if Johnny Cage didn't suck.  And was a redneck.

However, trouble comes when some South China Sea pirates arrive to steal her yacht.  They start attempting to "make a deal" with her, but she interrupts with her own deal involving them getting off her boat before she has to hurt them.  After they laugh for a moment, the butt-whooping begins.

Honestly, I'm not a Jaime Pressly fan, but...I like her in this.  Based on what I can find online, she's doing all of her own stunts and apparently regularly engages in kickboxing.  In order to be in the movie Torque she did fight training four hours a day leading up to the shoot.

Again, a spinning batarang blade thingy with an invitation appears, and Tina simply reacts like she was expecting it, leading us to-

I don't know why, but I love the fact that this movie seems to know exactly why people are watching it and aren't bothering with any kind of huge plot that typically gets shoehorned into silly action films.  This is the most exploitative scene I can imagine in a movie that still needs to maintain a PG-13 rating.  You have the criminal distracting the male cops (one of whom is American in Hong Kong because of reasons), you have the suitcase with the hidden pouch that I swear takes up most of the suitcase itself, you have a shot where the woman kicks a gun (and bra) into the air where they twirl in slow motion while she beats up everyone in the room, and you have that cute little moment where she makes the male cop clasp her bra onto her so you have something for the trailer.

She smacks a guy in the face with her towel, and you see him fly backward like he just got punched by Rocky.  It's just awesome.

This movie makes no apologies for what it is, and I can't fault it for that one bit.

She even follows a guy into the elevator wearing just her underwear and stuffs him into his own suitcase to steal his hat and trench coat so she can escape a hotel lobby unnoticed.  She jumps onto a motorcycle and takes off (with one more gratuitous butt shot) so that the spinny invitation blade can embed itself in the mini windshield.

I really have to give this scene credit.  It is completely gratuitous, but whoever handled the cinematography earned their paycheck making sure it remained "sexy" while keeping everything in place to avoid losing that PG-13 rating.  You get some substantial side-boob, but that's about it.

Unfortunately, we don't get any more invitation scenes because I swear I could just watch a movie of nothing but those and wait for the actual plot for the sequel.  Instead we jump to a short scene where Ayane is tasked with killing Kasumi because she left the temple (though, Ayane's leaving the temple causes no problems?).  Ayane listens to this while smacking a chalk-covered Tootsie Roll Pop against her sword a few times and then wiping the dust off.  For ninja reasons, I guess.

That scene over with, we jump to an airplane taking all the fighters to their destination, and we get to be introduced to a bunch of the other characters, such as opera singer Helena-

I mean, um, teenage roller blading bikini wearing DOA tournament spokeswoman Helena.  That's rather disappointing.  Let's look at the rest of our cast. the biggest disappointment this movie has delivered so far.  You have two characters based on Dennis Rodman and Hulk Hogan down to the funky hair and the red bandanna.  You even had Dennis Rodman voice the character of Zack in at least one game that I know of, but instead here you get what looks like bald Eddie Murphy.  Plus, instead of getting Hulk Hogan to play Bass, so you just slapped a blond wig and red banana onto Kevin Nash?  What were the two doing that they couldn't leave to come star in a movie?

We get some slight banter where Zack hits on Tina (in front of her dad!), Kasumi confronts a ninja who's following her (Ryu Hayabusa of Ninja Gaiden fame), and Christie confronts her (former?) partner Max played by Matthew "not related to James" Marsden.

Helena appears on the screen again to say she has a special surprise for everybody.  In order to compete, they have to jump from the plane and get to the compound before nightfall or they're disqualified.  Because I guess you really do want the best of the best to be involved in this, and if they can't follow simple Boy Scout learning, what good are they?

Each fighter jumps from the plane (though I notice that when the door springs open nobody's hair moves even a bit from all the wind that must be flooding the chamber), and Christie, Tina, and Kasumi all wind up at the base of some weird tower that they have to scale, eventually figuring out that they need to work together to reach the top before they're disqualified.  They're greeted by a still rollerblading Helena (seriously, out of everything else in this, a combat-oriented opera singer was too much?), and lead to Default Movie Bad Guy #17, aka Eric Roberts.

He explains that DOA was created by Helena's father as her the instructions from his will, and since Helena just turned 21, she's required (by the will, I guess?) to participate.  That's ... convenient for the plot.  Also weird, but we'll move on.

The fighters are given complete physicals, giving us a chance to learn everybody else in the tournament.  And I swear this is a) an attempt to get all the women into their underwear again, and b) a way to remind people that "hey, this is a video game, here's your character select screen."

The whole thing is also done to Bodyrockers' I Like The Way You Move so that's a thing.  I'm not sure about the significance, but whatever.

You also get a moment of watching Eric Roberts and some guy named Weatherby leer at the women (particularly Helena and Tina).  They're watching while each contestant gets nanobots injected into their bloodstream to act as tracking devices because that sounds totally legit and not something they should be leery of.  At all.  Especially not if being told to do it by Eric Roberts.

Day one of the tournament begins, and we get a montage of each fighter training (jump kicks, swift punches, beating up a punching bag, and in the case of Helena...lots of roller skating.  I guess she studied the Airborne school of combat.)

This is how amazing this movie is.  There's a giant computer system tracking and broadcasting each of the fights so all the people who ... you know, I don't know exactly why there's a lot of other people there who aren't fighters, but anyway they get to watch all of the fights streamed live as they happen.  The screens even have HEALTH BARS for the fighters because...I don't know, science or something.

Anyway, the fights can happen any time any where, and the only sign the fighters get is a special wrist watch will broadcast a picture of the person they're supposed to fight.  A lot of the people we don't care about at all get eliminated quickly (Jann Lee?  Eliot? Brad Wong?), and I also want to point out that it's pretty great that when someone wins, the actual announcer from the games declares them to be the winner.

After some quick fight scenes that are surprisingly paced really well and have some neat tricks in them, we jump to Kasumi who suddenly decides now is the time to remember a moment when her brother totally murdered a group of guys who kidnapped her and received his own invitation to a DOA tournament.  It's a pretty big jump considering we know she's a highly skilled combatant and is now reduced to the role of "princess in peril."  She then confronts Eric Roberts about the death of her brother, and he walks her out to the giant Buddha head statue from before and says that a guy named Leon (who apparently won last year and is back again this year?) kicked him off the cliff there.

Fun fact, you can do that to someone in the game.  In fact, a few of the fight scenes seem familiar, like they're based on actual fight arenas.

Kasumi decides to comfort herself with a bath filled with rose petals while Ryu Hayabusa sits guard outside her room.  She tells him that she thinks Eric Roberts lied about her brother, and he tells her that Ayane is skulking around somewhere.  We also check in to see Christie plot with Max (the guy who abandoned her in Hong Kong) to steal a hundred million from Roberts before hooking up for the night and Zack try to charm Tina with equal parts charm and creep.

Roberts decides to send Leon after Kasumi to see how he does compared to her brother, but before he can get there, Ayane smashes through her mirror to attempt to kill her.  It's one of the more blatant CGI moments in the film so far, plus I'm not really sure why half the mirror shattered and the other half didn't until Ayane strikes it again.

It's a short fight, but is interrupted when Leon smashes through the door to beat up Kasumi.  Ayane quickly splits, and Kasumi and Leon's fight spills through the wall into Christie's bedroom, and then she kicks him out the window to interrupt Tina and Zack.

There's a few weird things here.  The first is that there's clearly a "no weapons" rule but several objects get flung at each other.second is that Tina apparently has x-Ray vision, because she's able to perfectly time moving Zack into position, convince him to close his eyes so she can remove his trunks, and then climb out so that Leon almost falls on him.

It's also surprising that we're allowed to get a full shot of Zack's junk but they've worked so hard to keep the women's nudity covered up.  I guess I should be glad Dennis Rodman wasn't in this, because that's something I've never needed to see and still don't need.  Or want.

Of course, all of the awkwardness is balanced out by how goofy and fun it is that when Leon flexes, you hear a gun cock.  It's just so perfect.  Oh, and the battle music is pretty great, too.

Christie, now without a room because of the fight, bunks up with Tina just in time for her chance to sleep AGAIN be interrupted because the hosts figured a father/daughter fight would be appropriate and Bass kicked the door down.  This leads to a WACKY misunderstanding where Bass thinks Tina and Christie are lesbians, but it's pretty great how Bass just becomes instantly accepting of it ("Christie?  Tina's full name is CHRIS-Tina!").  Christie and Tina have some fun screen time together as Christie makes fun of Tina and Tina gets more and more flustered.

There's a puzzling moment, though, where Christie indicates she's naked under the sheets, but when Tina kicks her out of bed, she has her underwear on.  Like I said, Zack's junk is fine, but Christie's front is taboo?

The next scene is...well, it's kind of weird.  Bayman confronts Max and Max...well, let's just say it involves two flying shoes and is desperately missing the sad trombone sound from The Price Is Right and leave it at that.

We cut to the next morning where Kasumi is applying some acupuncture needles to Tina when Bass shows up again, and once again immediately assumes the worst best wrong thing ("Does Christie know about you two?").  Tina challenges him to a fight on a bamboo raft, first one in the water loses, and Bass responds by jumping on and sending Kasumi flying up to a water wheel where she lands delicately and just starts calmly walking because ninja.

Tina and Bass duke it out, with Bass actually keeping Tina from falling in because, well, she's his little girl, and I really get the sense he really just wants to be sure she wants to go through with it.  Once she knocks him into the water, he emerges giving her a thumbs up.  It's...kinda sweet.

And after that, it's time for beach volleyball.

I'm serious when I ask this, why did this movie not become a smash hit in the theaters?

Of course, the beach volleyball is just a way to distract everybody on the island so that Ryu Hayabusa can infiltrate Eric Roberts' complex and ninja-kick everybody he sees into submission in order to find out the truth about Kasumi's brother.  Unfortunately, the tournament sputters out when a ninja star arcs through the air and punctures the volleyball, causing it to land in Kasumi's hands.

Kasumi immediately says, in the most non-emotive voice I've ever heard, "I must go" and takes off.  I'm not sure if I was supposed to be laughing at this scene, but I did.

Oh, and Hayabusa gets captured as he tries to infiltrate a lab.

Kasumi confronts Ayane in a bamboo forest (because a forest fight scene was so good in Mortal Kombat they felt the need to do it again), but Kasumi manages to get the best of Ayane with a move involving a bamboo pole that I'm not sure is actually possible, and then Ayane runs when Tina, Christie, and Helena come to find Kasumi.

The fight scene, like all of the fight scenes, are a lot of fun, but I'm really starting to notice that the actress who plays Kasumi never really seems to express any kind of emotion unless she's smiling coyly at Hayabusa.  Maybe it's just her, but I always get the feeling she's being really impassive and almost going through the motions during every scene.

Back at the party, while Bitter:Sweet's The Mating Game plays in the background, Super Creep Weatherby shows up to try to put the moves on Helena.  There's a brief flash in his imagination of how it will go, complete with that music that ALWAYS plays when two people spot each other and fall in love and even a whole bunch of CG rose petals swirling around them.

Have I mentioned yet that this movie does not care at all what you think about it?

I guess Weatherby is supposed to represent the viewer/player of a lot of these styles of games.  He's awkward, shy, and nervous around women, he thinks that kissing their hand in greeting is actually charming because that's what nice guys do, and he somehow thinks that telling a pretty girl about his family heritage when they first meet is charming.  Granted, he's not unattractive, but he's a movie nerd, where obviously a guy who can clean up pretty well nerded himself up for the role.

And yet, Helena seems to dig it.  Go figure.

Zack again tries to put the moves on Tina, but she responds with kicking him in the face into a turntable (providing the obligatory record scratch) because his image just appeared on her "time to fight" watch.  And is where Zack proves why Zack is Zack and you are not.

He actually manages to make Tina feel bad that she's picking a fight during a party on and island devoting to a fighting tournament when the two of them were just told to fight and the circumstances say a fight can happen at any time.  But how dare she ruin the party for all of the other people.

You know, having the "fights happen at random times" thing is cool, and all, but if the fighters can just decide "oh, hey, it's our turn...nah, let's do it tomorrow" it rather defeats the purpose.

So we're through with about the first half of the movie and this post is getting pretty long, so come back tomorrow (hey, I promised five posts this week) as I wrap up part two of this film.  Primary characters fight each other!  Will Weatherby get to hook up with a "just became legal to drink" roller-blader?  Will Max and Christie steal the loot?  Will Bass be willing to walk his daughter down the aisle when she decides between a platinum blond thief or a blue-clad ninja?  Will Eric Roberts chew the living daylights out of some scenery?

You can bet the answer to the last one is a resounding yes.

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