Friday, September 15, 2006

Dead or Alive

[Now Experiencing] [Film]

While the rest of the gaming world was frantically clicking "Refresh" as the live feed from Nintendo's New York press conference rolled out (somewhat anticlimactically, if I may say so), I was in the cinema watching the movie adaptation of Dead or Alive.

If you've seen any of the marketing, then you know what to expect. Devon Aoki stars as Kasumi the Chinese ninja (don't analyse, just go with it), who travels to the Dead or Alive fighting tournament on Dead or Alive Island (yes, that appears to be the island's actual name) in order to find out what became of her brother, who entered last year and mysteriously vanished. On the island, she teams up with cat burglar Christie (Holly Valance) and pro-wrestler Tina (Jaime Pressly), and predictably discovers that the tournament is considerably more than it seems.

Along the way, you'll be treated to nudity, ridiculous dialogue, crotch shots, improbable wire fighting, girl-on-girl back massages, wet T-shirts, beach volleyball, and Sarah Carter in the role of roller-skating kick-boxing heiress Helena Douglas.

I have to say that the whole thing was considerably better acted and less embarassing to watch than either of the Charlie's Angels movies. But that's more of a mark of my distaste for Cameron Diaz than it is a compliment to Dead or Alive.

If you overlook the patent absurdity of the premise and pretty much everything that occurs during the movie, there's fun to be had in the watching. It never drags out a silly moment longer than necessary, or makes pretensions to deep characterisation or plot. Its main failing is really that, despite it being a movie about combat, it never convinces you that any of the main characters know how to fight. Pressly, in the role of wrestler Tina, not only fails to actually use any wrestling moves during the movie, but really doesn't look like she could pull off anything more intimidating than an open-handed slap. Valance as Christie has the benefit of better edited fight scenes but still hardly looks up to going toe-to-toe in an elite fighting tournament.

Devon Aoki really leads as far as the action sequences - if you've seen her in Sin City you're aware she can do a fairly convincing impression of a killer. Here she's not quite so good (and for some reason she looks like she's about 14 years old) but at least your suspension of disbelief is rarely broken during her somewhat understated fight scenes.

Look - overall, I haven't seen anything as totally ridiculous and gratuitous as this movie since... well, since Dead or Alive Xtreme 2, but it does succeed in capturing the feel and tone of the videogame remarkably well, and it mostly achieves what it was aiming for in terms of style, pacing, and entertainment. There have been a great many worse movies based on videogames, and if Hollywood isn't getting better at making good videogame movies, it's at least getting better at making movies which faithfully represent the game they're based on.

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