Several months after opening in various overseas markets, “DOA: Dead or Alive” has washed onto U.S. shores for a fleeting theatrical lap before sprinting toward its natural habitat of vidstore shelves and late-night cable. A whirring blur of hot babes and cool fights, choreographed by Hong Kong action master Cory Yuen to a wall-to-wall, rave-all-night electro-pop soundtrack, pic is so insubstantial that it practically evaporates on screen. And with its more exploitable assets tamped down (or dressed up) for purposes of a PG-13 rating, it likely won’t appeal to genre fans savvy enough to wait for an unrated “Director’s Cut.”
Even so, indulgent ticketbuyers with sufficiently lowered expectations may enjoy “DOA” as an exuberantly trashy trifle, the sort of nonstop, wire-worked kung-foolishness in which increasingly elaborate set pieces are interrupted only sporadically by something resembling a storyline. (You don’t have to be told it’s based on a popular videogame, do you?)
Credit helmer Yuen for staging such show-stopping spectacles as a swordfight on an outdoor stairway that looks like a collaboration between Gene Kelly and Bruce Lee.
Another highlight: Two bikini-clad hotties in a slow-mo smack-off on a rain-swept beach, suggesting what might happen if a fight broke out during a location shoot for a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
It took four credited scriptwriters to cobble together a scenario that plays like a caffeinated mash-up of “Enter the Dragon,” “Mortal Kombat,” “Charlie’s Angels” and maybe three or four of those ’70s drive-in quickies that used to provide steady employment for the likes of Cheri Caffaro and Judy Brown. The plot has something to do with an invitation-only martial arts tournament known as — you guessed it! — DOA, and a sci-fi scheme to channel world-class fighting ability into really nifty sunglasses. (You don’t want to know.) Mostly, though, “DOA” is about scantily-clad beauties punching, kicking and slicing single opponents, small armies and/or each other.
Chief among the DOA contestants: Tina (Jamie Pressly), a former pro wrestler who wants to prove she’s a “real” fighter; Christie (Holly Vance), a sultry cat burglar who shares a lust-hate relationship with an unreliable partner (Matthew Marsden); and Princess Kasumi (Devon Aoki), a ninja clanswoman who’s pursued by a bodyguard (Kane Kosugi) and an assassin (Natassia Malthe) while she pursues her missing brother (Collin Chou).
A nerdy scientist (Steve Howey) and a comely DOA hostess (Sarah Carter) also figure into the mix, as does the villainous Dr. Victor Donovan, played with all the silken professionalism Eric Roberts customarily evidences while picking up an easy paycheck.
Most of the acting is, at best, rudimentary. But Pressly enlivens a few scenes with her saucy insouciance — even when she’s the butt of jokes about her character’s sexual proclivities — and Roberts, reprising some of his Tae Kwon Do moves from “Best of the Best,” is a really good sport about getting his ass kicked by a bunch of girls.
“DOA: Dead or Alive” is reportedly the first Western production shot largely in China’s Hengdian World Studios. Production values are everything they need to be.