The Daily Stream: DOA: Dead Or Alive Is The Best Video Game Movie About Mortal Combat

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "DOA: Dead or Alive"

Where You Can Stream It: Tubi, Vudu, Redbox, Freevee, Plex

The Pitch: Based on the hit fighting game franchise (and its spin-off, a hit volleyball game franchise), "DOA: Dead or Alive" tells the story of a group of fighters from all over the world who convene to win $10 million dollars or, potentially, die trying.

The cast is vast, but taking center stage are the professional wrestling Tina (Jaime Pressly), her overbearing father Bass (Kevin Nash), the ninja princess Kasumi (Devon Aoki), the sultry super thief Christie (Holly Valance), the girl next door Helena (Sarah Carter), and the mysterious Donovan (Eric Roberts), who runs the fighting tournament and eventually downloads everyone's fighting skills into nanobots controlled by super sunglasses. Along the way they fight, a lot, over and over again, in various states of dress and undress They also play volleyball, and then fight some more. Eventually, they unite to save the day, which involves blowing a lot of stuff up, while they fight, and fight some more.

Why it's essential viewing

It's a cliché to even mention it, but some clichés are clichés for a reason: Most video game movies aren't very good, and the ones that are very good are usually good "for a video game movie." This is to say that regardless of their budgets, they're b-movie genre exercises with modest goals, achieved with modest success.

For example, live-action movies based on fighting games are largely underwhelming. We've had two live-action "Street Fighter" movies and literally, neither of those films has been about street fighting. The films based on "Tekken" and "King of Fighters" failed to make any impact whatsoever. The less said about "Double Dragon" (which was based on a beat 'em up, but is still a movie about fighters), the better.

Conventional wisdom states that Paul W.S. Anderson's "Mortal Kombat" is one of the best video game movies just because it doesn't stray from the basic formula. It gets a bunch of characters who are good at fighting in the same place and makes them fight each other. But that's the bare minimum we should be able to expect from these movies, not an ideal.

And frankly, even the original "Mortal Kombat" pales in comparison with the many fighting movies that directly inspired both the movie and the video game, like "Enter the Dragon" and "Master of the Flying Guillotine." It's a fun movie but the fights are largely unremarkable, the plot is weirdly self-serious considering how nonsensical it is, and the acting is all over the place. It's an inconsistent piece of entertainment.

It'd be a stretch to say that Corey Yuen's "DOA: Dead or Alive" is a cinematic classic, or that it transcends its subgenre, or even that it's a top-tier fight movie in a vacuum. But it kicks more butt than all the other video game fighting movies put together.

Xtreme beach volleyball

The "Dead or Alive" video games feature a whole bunch of characters with a whole bunch of motivations, but they catered to players with very simple interests: fighting, and tawdriness.

To many, "Dead or Alive" is synonymous with video game characters whose bosoms bounced with every attack, an immature attempt to woo so-called "mature" audiences. Director Corey Yuen, who also helmed women-centered martial arts classics like "Yes, Madam" and "So Close" — as well as camp classics like "No Retreat, No Surrender" — doesn't shy away from the sensuality of the games, but he treats the naughtiness like an absurd joke instead making the audience feel creepy.

Sure enough, there are a lot of bikinis in "DOA: Dead or Alive," and Christie — the most libidinous character in the movie — fights off a bunch of gun-toting cops naked, while putting her underwear on. But there's no actual nudity in the film, the characters who do have sex do so on their own terms, and the comical misunderstandings are surprisingly progressive for a film from 2006. Bass keeps running into Tina in situations where she appears to be having intimate affairs with various women, but rather than resort to hackneyed and offensive gay panic, he's instantly supportive and instead only embarrasses her by being wholesome.

Oh yeah, and they all play volleyball. Because of course, they do. To a score by Junkie XL, no less.

Critical hits

The spirit of good-natured fun is omnipresent in "DOA: Dead or Alive." The film understands that it's escapist entertainment, full of beautiful people in beautiful locales, punching each other. Each fight is in a different set-up, showcasing distinct choreography, and while it's clear that not every actor was doing all their own stunts, the stunt crew is doing a bang-up job. The fights pack a wallop, and by the end of this film's brisk 87-minute running time, you'll probably wonder why Jaime Pressly never had a proper action movie career. She's magnetic, she's funny, and she's convincing as someone who could stomp you into oblivion.

It's a good thing the film focuses so entirely on its amiable heroes because any attempt to take the story seriously would have fallen apart as quickly as a sand castle in a litter box. The fighting tournament is all a ruse, you see, so that Donovan can use nanobots to steal the fighting styles of the toughest fighters in the world, and sell the technology to bad guys all over the world. This basically means he's spending billions of dollars to skip a few years of disciplined study, a skillset that could also easily be undone with — and try to follow along here — guns, which these bad guys would probably also have, and presumably have spent a lot less money on.

It's a bit of a bummer that the climax of "DOA: Dead or Alive" is a giant fight between all the characters and (ahem) Eric Roberts, the one actor who's never convincing as a martial arts badass. But by that point we like all these women and want them to team up, Avengers-style, to fight the bad guy, and they do. It's an immensely satisfying b-movie, full of fun characters and fights, and one of the best video game movies.