Saturday, November 24, 2012

Exfanding Review: Double Dragon

In an effort to expand my knowledge of movies based on video games (to broaden my frame of reference when other people talk about them; not because I think they'll be any good), I sat down with my wife to watch the 1994 film Double Dragon.

Her reaction: It was painful to watch.

My reaction: It was exactly the kind of cheesy, tongue-in-cheek '90s action flick I didn't realize I had been craving.

 Don't let my reaction fool you, though; Double Dragon is not a very good movie. It falls under the category of "awesomely bad," the term used by a friend of mine to describe the Spanish dub of The Legend of Zorro—that is to say, parts of it are so over-the-top bad that they're good again. Which is the evilest thing of all.

I don't recall ever playing any incarnation of the game, but I've seen and heard bits and pieces about it over the years. I know about Billy and Jimmy Lee, the two bad dudes (whoops, wrong game) who punch and kick the stuffing out of wave after wave of enemies, all in an effort to rescue their (their?) girlfriend, Princess What's-Her-Name (whoops, wrong game again). Along the way, they occasionally beat up such iconic, vaguely human enemies such as Abobo...and...yeah, that's about all I know.

And someone, somewhere, said, "Let's fill an hour and a half with this game that takes 15 minutes to beat if you don't die."

So they fleshed out the simple kidnapping plot with this story about an ancient Chinese medallion known as the "Double Dragon" that grants the wearer incredible power of body and spirit. The medallion was broken into two pieces, hidden away from people who might misuse it, and promptly stolen by people who might misuse it.

The spirit half is stolen, at least; the power half is possessed by some possibly unnamed girl (did they ever mention her by name?) who hangs out with Billy and Jimmy, and who totally doesn't try to use the medallion when her life is in danger and she's about to get thwacked by the bad guy. (Or maybe she does, and I missed the subtlety of it.)

Notice how we've sort of lost the girlfriend-kidnapping plot. The girlfriend (Marion—she has a name) does appear, however, as more of a not-until-the-end girlfriend, who happens to have her own gang, which prowls the streets of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles in the far-flung year of 2007 against bad guys like this film's main antagonist, who is actually the T-1000 from Terminator 2 disguised as a goofy, gaudy bajillionaire.

As far as cheesy movie villains go, he certainly is one. It's funny how he's not really evil, and he doesn't seem to be all that good at villainy; at best, he's like a mediocre CEO who fires his employees by turning into a shadow and choking them to death. Sample quote: "I just want total domination of one major American City! Is that too much to ask for? Is it? Is it? Huh?"

He's not the only antagonist; there's Whip Girl (who I'm pretty sure never got a name), hordes of colorful cannon-fodder grunts, and, of course, Bo Abobo.

Abobo on steroids:

Abobo on more steroids:

Abobo on spinach:

There are plenty of action sequences, all of which seem to have been choreographed by someone who merely shouted out things he wanted punched or broken, leaving the "martial arts" bit to the imagination of the actors. Somebody even threw in a couple of vehicle chases, with vehicles that have onboard computer navigation screens so you feel like you're inside a video game! Not the right video game, mind you, but the fact that somebody thought to make a video game movie feel at all like a video game? Genius.

What made Double Dragon so fun to watch was that it wasn't really a failed attempt at a game-to-movie translation; it was more like a live-action adaptation of a terrible cartoon based on a video game, one that tried its best to be taken seriously while fully acknowledging its ridiculous source material, all the while referencing the source material's source material wherever possible.

If that makes any sense.

The absolutely random cameos from the likes of Vanna White and Andy Dick. The sight gags and one-liners that actually made me laugh out loud—I am a sucker for punnery and the ironically absurd, so take that with a grain of salt. The gratuitous jumping. The whole production feels like Escape from New York meets Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles meets Mighty Morphin Power Rangers meets Looney Tunes, which, in and of itself, is amusing to me.

It's still got a quirky-but-otherwise-average script, a predictable plot, passable acting, messy fight scenes, and a forgettable soundtrack (which at least attempted to sound like a video game toward the end!), which keep Double Dragon from being a good movie. But, unless your sensibilities are closer to my wife's, it remains a fun movie.

Coming in with low expectations and no nostalgia for anyone to tread on, I found myself pleasantly surprised. So, if you need your cheesy, tongue-in-cheek '90s action flick fix, Double Dragon might just do the trick.

Especially if you're watching the (Swedish?) subtitled version on YouTube, which has subtitles that sound really funny when you read them aloud as though they're in English.

Stanna, get me a pudding! Pudding forever. My type.

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