Every week with Revisiting the Reviled, Sean looks at a film that was meant to appeal to geeks and failed, often miserably.
Even though I can recall playing the Double Dragon video game, any concept of plot within the game eludes my recollections. If I were to imagine what a movie of Double Dragon might look like, I’d envision two guys walking down the street fighting an endless stream of faceless bad guys for 90 minutes. Plot is an obstacle for all early attempts to adapt video games for the movies. Like Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat, Double Dragon isn’t remembered for anything related to plot. It’s the interactivity and types of gameplay that made them memorable. Lacking in plot has never stopped anyone from trying to make a quick buck at the movies. As part of that first wave of video game adaptations, Double Dragon entered theaters and quickly left, joining the ranks of most comic book adaptations – a generally unloved bomb.
The film opens with schlocky narration by the film’s villain Koga Shuko, played by Terminator 2 villain Robert Patrick. He explains the mystical origins of a medallion called the Double Dragon. The film then takes us to the villain’s henchmen and their search the medallion. Signifying the film’s sloppiness, their search takes place “somewhere in China.” It’s only a massive part of the Asian continent, but the action is happening somewhere in there. Shuko’s goons are able to acquire half of the medallion, but the other half is out there. Of course, all of this takes place in New Angeles in 2007, the city ravaged by an earthquake years prior.
The other half of the medallion is held by Satori (Julia Nickson). She helps to train the brothers Billy (Scott Wolf) and Jimmy Lee (Mark Dacascos) for the fighting competitions in which they make their living. After a crushing defeat, the trio is driving home after curfew – you see, the police only work in the day and the gangs of New Angeles have their way at night. They are noticed by a mohawked-gang run by the muscle-bound Abobo (Nils Allen Stewart). Before they are saved by the Power Corp, a group of civic-minded teenagers run by Marian Delario (Alyssa Milano), Abobo notices that Satori has the medallion and will pass that information on to Shuko. Now Billy, Jimmy, and Satori have a target on their back and must figure out the mystery of the Double Dragon to defeat the forces of evil.
By no means can Double Dragon be called a good, or even competent, movie. It oddly feels like there are two movies competing against each other, and the outcome always favors the worse option. The bizarre post-quake dystopia that is the film’s setting is more interesting than anything concerning the mystical medallion. The matte painting work of destroyed Hollywood works much better than woeful-for-’94 CG effects. The story of how the police completely ceded operations at night, and the political struggle between the gangs is infinitely more fascinating than two guys who don’t remotely look alike fighting a white guy named Koga Shuko.
Even for its era, Double Dragon is remarkably dated. It represents an early-‘90s aesthetic of bright neon colors. The first time Robert Patrick’s villain appears on screen, your mind can’t help but hear the lifted bassline from “Under Pressure,” as the villain seems to be modeled on Vanilla Ice, already a confirmed laughing stock in 1994. Compounding matters, the gangs and dystopian setting often resemble the claustrophobic and forgettable settings of Robocop 3 and Super Mario Bros. Seriously, why do people keep thinking Los Angeles is going to split off from the mainland and descend into chaos?
A veteran of music videos and stand-up comedy specials, director James Yukich makes his feature length directorial debut. But with comedians and musicians, Yukich was never forced to direct an actual performance, or so it would seem after seeing Double Dragon. This film may be among the most poorly acted I’ve ever encountered. Every dramatic line is stiff and laughable, and every comedic line is broad and flat. Without a doubt, the most awkward line reading in a film full of awkward line readings is Alyssa Milano belting out, “We have no – choice!”
Of the few things that work in Double Dragon, the few television segments, a la Robocop, are surprisingly effective. The news hosted by Vanna White and George Hamilton delivers the grim news of a post-quake New Angeles with their perfect plastic smiles. Advertisements for hydraulic jacks to stabilize buildings play on the air before returning to Andy Dick with the weather. He reports to the people their need to wear oxygen masks and prepare for “black rain” before telling other viewers to “get a job”. Again, all of this is infinitely more interesting than anything concerning that stupid medallion.
At its best, Double Dragon plays like a version of Miami Connection with a modest budget. At its worst, it’s a kid’s film with performances not meant to be seen after 10am on Saturday. This is a movie that was dated before it ever came out. Though it is a generally awful movie, Double Dragon does sneak in its few interesting moments – among the credited writers is Peter Gould, who’d later find success as a writer for Breaking Bad, creating the character of Saul Goodman. A few interesting elements aren’t enough to compensate for the neon buffoonery that makes up a majority of Double Dragon, another dismal entry in the annals of video game movies.