Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jaime Pressly, Devon Aoki, Holly Valance, Sarah Carter, Natassia Malthe, Eric Roberts, Matthew Marsden, Brian J. White, Collin Chou, Kane Kosugi
Written by: J.F. Lawton, Adam Gross, Seth Gross
Directed by: Corey Yuen
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for pervasive martial arts and action violence, some sexuality and nudity
Running Time: 87
Date: 09/07/2006

DOA: Dead or Alive (2007)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Alive' and Kicking

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy DOA: Dead or Alive on DVD (Region 2, PAL).

Movies, summer movies in particular, and trash have always made comfortable bedfellows. Year after year, studios rack their collective brains for new ways to package trash, making it bigger and shinier. That's what Corey Yuen has done with the new film DOA: Dead or Alive, based on the video game of the same name. Yuen doesn't need to pay tribute to anything. He was there.

A fight choreographer and director, he has worked often with Jet Li, and helmed The Transporter (2002), one of the most ridiculously entertaining "B" movies of recent years. Admittedly, he's not the most talented filmmaker ever to emerge from Hong Kong, but that still ranks him several notches above the average Hollywood action director. DOA: Dead or Alive starts fast, moves fast and ends before you know it.

Like a cross between Charlie's Angels and Enter the Dragon, the action revolves around an annual fight tournament on a remote island. The best fighters in the world, each with a different style, are invited to join. Among this year's combatants, we have the daughter of a professional wrestler, Tina (Jaime Pressly), a British master thief, Christie (Holly Valance), and a Japanese Princess, Kasumi (Devon Aoki), whose brother attended the tournament the previous year and never returned.

The man in charge of the tournament, Donovan (Eric Roberts), has a preposterous evil scheme brewing. Using nanotechnology, he records all the various fighters' moves and downloads them into a pair of sunglasses so that he can anticipate any move and win any battle. Our three heroines must team up to defeat him. A swordswoman with purple hair (Natassia Malthe) and the rollerblading Helena (Sarah Carter) eventually help.

Like Grindhouse, the film shies away from eroticism, but contains plenty of skimpy outfits and perfectly sculpted bodies. Yuen's computer-assisted action sequences move with speed and precision, slowing down to catch a particularly impressive move, or speeding up to pump the adrenaline. (One great fight scene takes place in a forest of bamboo trees.)

Occasionally the film tries to explain its plot, and that's where it runs into trouble. The script, by J.F. Lawton (Under Siege), and newcomers Adam and Seth Gross, is riddled with annoying expositional dialogue. For example, by leaving her temple and her people, the Princess has become a "shinobi," or "outcast." Characters bring this up at least four times, using both terms each time, as if translating back and forth makes it sound more impressive.

Likewise, don't expect any brilliant performances; there's very little room here for emoting. Most of the scant space is devoted to cute girls, sharp swords and serious butt-kicking. In short, DOA: Dead or Alive is unquestionably brain-dead, but also a great example of unpretentious, second-gear celluloid, generated quickly, cheaply -- and for the fun of it.

DVD Details: The Weinstein Company opened this movie in the U.S. without a press screening, so I reviewed it from this imported DVD. The cut I saw runs only 83 minutes, so I suspect that the Weinsteins may actually have added footage back for the U.S. theatrical release. The disc comes with some deleted scenes that are actually pretty good and may actually improve the movie a bit. There's also a typical "making-of" featurette, with talking heads and clips. The disc is letterboxed and anamorphic. (Beware of a cheaper edition that is panned-and-scanned.) DOA: Dead or Alive

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