DOA: DEAD OR ALIVEPG-13
Despite the high-tech trappings, wire-work stunts and computer-enhanced fight scenes, this adaptation of the "ultimate fighter" videogame series--which began in 1996 and includes such odd variations as Dead or Alive Xtreme Vollyball--is actually an almost-sweet throwback to cinematic adventures of yore. As bloodless as it is mindless, it posits an invite-only, high-stakes annual tournament where the fiercest, most vicious fighters on Earth battle to...well, despite the title, not to the death but to the knocked-out. The winner gets $10 million, losers get to go home safely. Even the non-sanctioned swordfights on the side don't give so much as a razor-burn. It's all such good, clean fun, you're waiting to see the Rawhide Kid shoot a pistol harmlessly out of some gunslinger's hand.
DOA: Dead or Alive earns its PG-13 rating less for its violence--and Three Stooges shorts are worse, what with the eye-poking--than for its parade of pulchritude. There's only one brief flash of very partial side nudity, but there's a Stuff/Maxim lad-mag feel to every frame. In between fights, nubile young babes tan themselves, bathe in rose-petal water and dive for volleyballs; one of our heroines, wrapped in a towel, gets the drop on a guy by discreetly slithering into her panties and then kicking the gun out of his hand when he brings her bra over to her. As much of a skin show as it is, you can't call it sexist--the women here are tougher and more serious-minded than any of the male competitors, while also making time for girl-power cooperation and even finding boyfriends. None of this should in any way be taken as a recommendation. It's all about as thrilling as watching the countryside whiz by in the car.
We meet the three main women in the exotic Far East. In Japan's Ishikari Mountains, Kasumi (the particularly awful Devon Aoki) is what appears to be a feudal-era princess, at least until she wire-works her way over a palace wall and parasails off to search for her presumed-dead brother Hayate (Collin Chou). Cut to the South China Sea, where good-ol'-gal pro wrestler Tina Armstrong (the almost frighteningly fit former gymnast Jaime Pressly, co-star of the NBC sitcom "My Name is Earl") fends off a quartet of would-be pirates out for her yacht; the last one's so scared of her, he voluntarily jumps into the water. Finally, in a Hong Kong hotel room, there's Christie Allen (Holly Valance), a New Zealand-accented international thief and the aforesaid panty-slitherer.
Along with colorful characters taken from the various DOA games--with real-life wrestler Kevin Nash actually kind of amusing as Tina's dad and competitor--the girls must contend with the suave Max (Matthew Marsden), Christie's sometime partner, who has a lead on $100 million stashed in a secret vault on the tournament's tropical island; Ayane (Natassia Malthe), a purple-wigged assassin stalking Kasumi; Hayabusa (Kane Kosugi), Hayate's best friend and Kasumi's bodyguard (like she needs it); and first-time competitor Helena Douglas (Sarah Carter), whose late father founded the game. Could mysterious master of ceremonies Victor Donovan be up to no good? Of course he is--he's played by Eric Roberts. The geek-gets-girl stand-in for the presumably pubescent audience is Weatherby (Steve Howey), the conscience-stricken computer nerd.
There's a subplot about injected nanobots broadcasting the fighters' movements to a database and assorted other folderol, but it all adds up to ho-hum. Director Corey Yuen (The Transporter), a veteran of Hong Kong actioners, fills the movie with superhuman flying leaps and well-choreographed fights, but the whole affair is so computer-enhanced that the Winter Olympics are more exciting. Yeah, that's right, luge is more exciting. Somewhere, Andy Sidaris is turning over in his grave.