[Welcome back to the Evolution of Video Game Movies series. Every week, I will be moving forward through time, starting with the earliest and ending with the most recent of video game movies. I will be detailing the histories of the games and how the films came about, and both my and fan reaction to the adaptations. Practically all of my background information is either common knowledge or from Wikipedia. So without further ado, let's move on to the next film on the list.]
In 1987, a company called Technos Japan released an arcade fighter called Double Dragon. In the game, you are martial artist Billy Lee and on a mission to rescue your love interest, Marian, who has been kidnapped by some bandits called the Black Warriors, who have all but taken over the city. In two-player mode, you're joined side by side by your twin brother, Jimmy Lee, who also has an attraction to Marian. The Black Warriors are led by the mysterious Shadow Boss, and include other enemies such as the whip-handling Linda; the muscle with the giant head, Abobo; and Willy, who is the supposed actual leader of the Black Warriors. So as Billy (and possibly Jimmy), you must fight your way through town to find the kidnapped Marian.
But the thing about the arcade version is the ending. It had a shocking ending that nobody saw coming, and it went down in history to make the game into a fan favorite. And what was that? Turns out Willy wasn't the final boss at all. In fact, the Shadow Boss... turns out to be Billy's own twin brother, Jimmy! You have to defeat him if you want to save Marian.
Of course controversy showed up when the game was ported to the NES in 1988 and some important aspects of the arcade version were changed. Not only was the well-known cooperative mode removed, but Jimmy is removed as a playable character (two-player mode was changed to an alternating of rounds controlling Billy) and made simply into the final boss. This removed the impact of the twist of the original game. There were also technical difficulties with the port, as well. It was eventually also ported to other more powerful systems, as well. But although the original is considered one of the best games of all time, the ports are considered good, but shadows of the original.
The game garnered some sequels, but none of them had as much popularity as the first (particularly the third, which was considered the worst of the bunch). But in 1993, it was still popular enough to inspire an animated TV show that ran for only a couple seasons. It added a mystical element wherein the brothers had magical swords that gave them special powers.
All of this, of course, led to a live action film adaptation in 1994. Critics, however, saw it less than positive... as did fans and the general public. It has a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, currently making it the lowest rated video game adaptation of all time. That being said, I did own this on VHS and enjoyed it as a kid very much in the same way I enjoyed Surf Ninjas--pure, unadulterated, cheesy guilty pleasure. But I haven't seen it in years... until now. So how does it hold up in its badness?
In the not-too-distant future of 2007 where a giant earthquake all but destroyed California, twin brothers Billy (Scott Wolf) and Jimmy (Mark Dacascos) live on their own with their caretaker, Satori (Julia Nickson) in a run-down theater in New Angeles. It's a future where gangs rule the night, including the Mohawks, run by Bo Abobo (Nils Allen Stewart). But there's also a rebellion who fights back, led by the pretty Marian (Alyssa Milano). However, everything turns for the worse when a conglomerate villain named Koga Shuko (Robert Patrick), with the help of right-hand lady Linda Lash (Kristina Wagner), goes in search of the two halves of the Double Dragon, a mystical medallion that will give its owner extreme power. But as he already has one half, it's up to the Lee brothers to protect the other half and defeat Shuko at all costs.
Wow is this a lot worse than I remember. I can see why a young kid would find it entertaining (and Alyssa Milano in short-shorts doesn't hurt)... but... yeah, it's not good. I mean, yes it's cheesy and silly, but it really walks the border between fun-bad and just plain bad.
Let's start with the actors and acting in general. First, who the hell decided to take two big, buff twin brother characters and cast scrawny, white Scott Wolf and athletically built Hawaiian, Mark Dacascos? I mean, I can see why you'd want the latter--he's a skilled martial artist, and this is based on a fighting game. But come on, Scott Wolf as his twin brother? You're not even trying. Then there's Robert Patrick as the villain. That's easier to see. But he totally hams it up and is not menacing in the least. Alyssa Milano is nice to look at, at least, though her hair style here does not really suit her very well. On top of everything, the acting is atrocious. Besides just the poor line reading, everything is big eyes and silly faces and... bad.
It's not like they had a lot to work with, though. The script itself is terrible. We all know I'm a pun guy. I like a good wordplay. But this entire movie is nothing but puns... and really bad ones, at that. It's stuff like... there's a scene where Scott Wolf locks a guy's ponytail into a briefcase and then says "What a headcase!" Or they kick him into a safety net and go "Nothin' but net!" Did I mention those two alone are within the same minute or so of the film? And it's like that throughout the entire 90 minutes. The dialogue, the setup, the character development... everything is painful. There's a scene about a third of the way in where (Spoilers) they just lose the only family they have left, and moments later, Jimmy is yelling at Billy because he's acting childish for grieving and needs to grow up. SERIOUSLY? (End spoilers)
Granted, most of these things could be forgiven if the action is good, right? It is based on a fighting game, after all. It's too bad that's not the case, either. The action, choreography, and entire way it's filmed is lame, boring, and lacks any kind of impact. There's only one decent fight sequence, which is when they play a little homage to the original game and have Jimmy as a bad guy and Billy has to fight him. It shows off why they hired Mark Dacascos in the first place. But the fight is very short and doesn't show off even close to enough to make it worth it. Everything else is just... weak is the only word I can come up with.
In the end, they did try to have some connections to the game, at least (from what I researched). The character outfits, the Jimmy/Billy fight, and the eventual look of Abobo being the most obvious. And to be fair, the visual effects of the film are actually pretty decent. They still hold up today, and I found nothing really fake or eye-rolling in that department. But otherwise, everything else was a travesty. The writing is so bad it hurts, and the acting didn't even come close to overcoming it. The movie is pure silliness and cheese; unfortunately, it never tries to be anything more than that from the get-go, and that makes the entire product suffer. I wouldn't say it quite reaches the point of "don't watch," and it does have quite a few moments of "so bad its good" due to the "what the heck were they thinking?" factor. So if you're going to check it out, do so for that. There's not much of a reason otherwise, unless you just really want to see Alyssa Milano in short-shorts and a lot of shots at her butt when she bends over.