Dead or Alive could be the most literal cinematic interpretation of a computer game ever made. In the film, three young women fight in a combat tournament called DOA: Dead or Alive, held on a top secret, technologically advanced Pacific island resort. As they kick, punch and scratch their way through a smorgasbord of fighters (and suitors), they are recorded by the island's invasive video cameras and watched on multiple screens in a computer laboratory by tournament director Donovan (Eric Roberts
). Here's where it gets literal. Donovan injects all competitors with nanobots that record data from their blood stream. This data is relayed back into the computer system so that when Donovan (and the audience) views the fights, incongruous colored bars hover in the upper right and left corners of the screen, indicating the power levels of each competitor. Each time a player is hit, the bar reduces. As the bar is diminished, the fighter becomes more sluggish, until it disappears completely and the fighter collapses. When this happens, giant red and yellow words jump onto the screen and announce who won, who lost, and how. Article continues below
Clearly, the filmmakers have respected the basic format of the DOA computer game and respected its fans. However, in respecting the computer game director Cory Yuen
has disrespected cinema and forgotten the basic needs of a decent film: a good story, interesting characters and some sort of drama. DOA occasionally touches on all of these points, but kicks away in favor of a slavish desire to package the entire production in the style of its source material.
What story there is serves as a banal segue to each next stage of the competition. Princess Kasumi (Devon Aoki
), of some sort of Japanese Samurai clan thingy (that's about as clear as it gets), attends DOA to find out what happened to her brother Hayate (Collin Chou), missing since competing a year ago. Tina (Jaime Pressly
) is a pro-wrestler who agrees to fight to prove to her father (another wrestler, also competing) that she's not a fake. Christie (Holly Valance
) is a master thief, who attends with a half-baked plan of stealing some money stored in a giant Buddha statue. Then there's Helena (Sarah Carter
), who rides roller skates. As Kasumi, Tina, and Christie realize they're being played and that Donovan might just be William Baldwin from Sliver, Helena becomes the expendable D'Artagnan of the group, hanging around with nothing to do, waiting for someone to un-pause her.
DOA does not have a story so much as multiple back-stories. In this way, it is like a computer game again. Like the game too, it is not long between fights. Donovan is as eager as anyone with a joystick in his hand, and sets up fights in quick succession, only occasionally taking a breath for a spot of volleyball among the contestants. DOA is thus full of action: Not necessarily a bad thing if the action is exciting and executed well. Unfortunately, the film is lacking in even this respect. The fights are choreographed interestingly enough and the locations are creative (I liked Tina and her dad fighting on a wooden raft in a lake) but there is too much computerized meddling in the stunts for them to be genuinely exciting. It all seems false, with a bubblegum sheen and inconsequentiality to every battle. Nobody is seriously hurt and Yuen's caffeinated camera, nervously speeding up here and there, quickly becomes annoying.
However, DOA is not an awful film. It manages to shine at times through the constraints of its gaming beginnings. Pressly and Valance are beautiful women (Yuen certainly thinks so, given how lasciviously his camera often ogles them) and have a certain cinematic charm. Aoki is pretty too, but her delivery is more dead than alive. The finale is very over the top, a dizzying mishmash of the "fight the boss" and the "collapsing temple" clichés, and works pretty well on those terms. Nevertheless, by this stage the film is unsalvageable. Yuen forgets one thing about computer games: that their appeal is in their capacity for players to interact with them. Although it has yet to be demonstrated, this appeal could be transported to the screen in a game adaptation. It would take a director who realizes that interacting with a film is a different thing than watching a game being played.