Based on a fighting game series known primarily for its massively mammaried heroines (the second installment having, apparently, an entire physics engine dedicated to the animation of, you know, breasts) and the beach volleyball spin-off game it spawned, DOA the film introduces the characters and their flimsy backstories, then sends them to an island and pits them against each other -- exactly as a fighting game would. And that's it.
I've never -- thankfully, I gather -- played any of the DOA franchise, but the film pays quiet, clever homage to fighting games in general. It's centered on a tournament with no other point than to crown the world's best fighter from a pool of the best in each particular martial art (think UFC with wire fu). Three of the four main fighters (all babes, of course), are lethally diverse in just the way you'd expect. The American chick, Tina Armstrong (Jaime Pressly) is a wrestler looking to go legit. Kasumi (Devon Aoki) is the princess of a cloistered kingdom of ninja. Christie Allen (Holly Valance) is a lethal master thief. When players fight each other, a quick videogame-style versus screen pops up. When Weatherby (Steve Howey, of the godforsaken Reba), the geek tasked with monitoring the combatant's vitals, views them on his computer screens, they come complete with life bars. And, of course, like many, many fighting games, the tournament host Donovan (Eric frickin' Roberts) is actually a bad guy who must be destroyed.
Though I've generally hated -- actually, despised -- fighting games, I suppose that nevertheless I have derived much of my happiness from a childhood, adolescence and, fine, adulthood spent in front of a television screen -- mashing buttons, getting my ass slaughtered in round after round of whatever games my friends chose. Less dependent on my own geekery, though, the film succeeds in its incredibly limited way because the filmmakers knew they were making a bad movie and took no pains to either dress it up or shlock it up. They set out to make a fighting game movie, and that's exactly what they did, playing to the form, faults and exigencies of its source without irony.
The resulting film is bad, but not pretentiously so or groaningly so. And that makes it daft and light and often pretty fun. Like rental fun, though, obviously. (Last night in theaters is Thursday.) (Rated PG-13)