The first, or maybe second, third or even fourth Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday of every month Nathan Rabin writes about three DVD premieres for Dispatches From Direct-To-DVD Purgatory.
DOA: Dead Or Alive: I admitted early on that I'd be cheating a li'l bit in this column by writing up films that got a small theatrical release but didn't play wide enough to merit a proper A.V Club review. Well, I'm cheating a whole lot this entry by writing about DOA: Dead Or Alive, a film that opened on a whopping 505 screens. Why? Cause it's a hyper-kinetic video game adaptation where a bunch of sexy starlets beat the crap out of each other against a series of amusingly artificial CGI backgrounds. As such, it is also quite possibly the single most important film ever made, and also the bestest as well. Yet the A.V Club has remained perversely silent on the merits of this masterpiece of the cinema.
You've undoubtedly gazed rapturously at DOA's video box, possibly while masturbating, and wondered whether the film would meet the exacting standards of the A.V Club. Is the character development satisfying? Is the mise en scene jumbled or electric? How about the character arcs? Are they compelling or underdeveloped? The answer to all of the above questions is "Who the hell cares? It's a goddamned video game adaptation where a bunch of sexy starlets beat the crap out of each other." DOA ain't art but it is an awful lot of fun. Director Corey Yeun and screenwriter J.F Lawton execute the high-energy shenanigans with tongues firmly in cheek while exhibiting a shameless appreciation of the female form. Jaime Pressly, Holly Valance and Devon Aoki ably lead the T&A; brigade while Eric Roberts is fun-bad as the sinister mastermind behind a mysterious martial-arts tournament. It'd be easy to dismiss DOA: Dead Or Alive as a dumb, smutty live-action video game but that's pretty much exactly what the filmmakers are shooting for, god bless their pervy, exploitative souls.
Just How Bad Is It? It's bad in an exquisitely awesome sorta way. He Was A Quiet Man: By a curious coincidence I watched The Dark Backward a day before I watched He Was A Quiet Man, another instant cult film-minus-the-cult where a former teen heartthrob undergoes a dramatic grungification process to play a hapless uber-dork. Dark Backward offered the strange spectacle of Judd Nelson doing Neil Hamburger (before there was a Neil Hamburger. Does anyone know whether Hamburger was influenced by the film?). He Was a Quiet Man offers an equally surreal opportunity to see Christian Slater channeling Stephen Root in Office Space. Jack Nicholson must be jealous.
A woefully derivative though reasonably compelling mash-up of seemingly every major cult film of the past decade, Quiet Man begins where Taxi Driver ends: with a deranged lunatic accidentally becoming a hero. Here, Slater's dead-eyed cubicle drone rockets up the corporate ladder after he ends with extreme prejudice the deranged, Columbine-style killing spree of a nutjob co-worker. The twist? Slater killed the man with a gun he brought to work to launch an insane killing spree of his own. It's not Slater's fault really: evil talking CGI goldfish told him to do it.
Slater then strikes up an unlikely friendship with Elisha Cuthbert, a sexy striver on the fast track to upper management before a bullet to the spine sent her on a one-way trip to wheelchair city. Cuthbert wants Slater to help her commit suicide but gosh darn it if he doesn't fall for her in the process. William H. Macy lends indelible support as Slater's boss but the film would be stronger if Slater and Macy switched roles. Macy has a way of making anxious losers unforgettable while Slater engages in something like geek minstrelry. He's all self-defeating body language, mumbly line readings, Poindexter glasses and unflattering facial hair. It's not a bad performance necessarily, just one we've all seen before. The same goes for the film itself: it's watchable enough and suitably stylish. But in a world where Office Space, Fight Club, American Beauty and Taxi Driver are all readily available why bother with an inferior knock-off?
Just How Bad Is It?Not bad necessarily, just frustratingly unoriginal. Blonde Ambition: Back in 2001 I had the profound honor of reviewing a Jessica Simpson concert in the parking lot of a mall on the east side of Madison, Wisconsin for NME's website. I was in the midst of a crippling depression so instead of grooving on the sheer ridiculousness of watching a pneumatic Britney Spears wannabe perform in front of a desperate sea of teenyboppers on an inflatable stage with a line-up of wannabes and never-weres I found the whole experience unbearably sad.
I took some small comfort in the knowledge that I'd probably never have to think about Simpson ever again, let alone write about her. After all, Simpson's music career was going nowhere and even in a culture as pathologically superficial as ours having a phenomenal rack can only take a girl so far. Could I have been more wrong? To borrow the title of a book I encourage everyone to purchase immediately, Simpson has subsequently shown the tenacity of the cockroach, moving from failed record deals to faddish reality shows to commercials and her own line of hair extensions. The hype machine kicked into overdrive once Simpson signed on to play Daisy Duke in the Dukes Of Hazard movie. It was instilled in every man, woman and child in our fair country that Simpson would give the single sexiest performance in recorded history. She'd be like a skankalicious Helen of Troy taunting and teasing an army of unseen admirers.
So filmgoers were both shocked and relieved to discover that Simpson's insanely hyped role ultimately amounted to little more than a glorified cameo. It's almost as if the filmmakers realized that Simpson was an actress of rare, almost unprecedented vacuity and decided to cut their losses. The studio behind Blonde Ambition made a similar decisions. After the film grossed just over six thousand dollars during a theatrical run in Texas it was unceremoniously dumped onto DVD.
A sort of brain-damaged update of Working Girl, Blonde Ambition casts Simpson as a plucky small town girl who leaves her beloved "Pa Paw" (Willie Nelson) behind to try her luck in New York city. In the process Simpson drags a number of failed starlets down with her, particularly Rachel Leigh Cook and Penelope Ann Miller. When Miller's character is introduced I found myself thinking "Who is that hideous, straw-haired, clown-faced walking skeleton?" and was a little horrified to realize that it was Miller.
Penelope Anne Miller plays the film's villain, a scheming corporate Iago who installs an oblivious Simpson as the assistant to rival Larry Miller as a means of sabotaging him from inside. But P.A's sinister machinations backfire when Simpson's small-town ways endear her to the outside world. For example P.A's scheming sidekick Andy Dick tricks Simpson into accidentally insults a group of Norwegian priests. Yet Simpson quickly wins over the men of God by taking them to a karaoke bar where they exuberantly perform the most embarrassing rendition of "Baby Got Back" this side of Gigli. The "Baby Got Back" scene qualifies as one of the rare moments in Blonde Ambition where the film musters up the energy to be exuberantly awful instead of merely limp and unfunny.
Simpson stumbles her way through an endless gauntlet of artlessly choreographed pratfalls but having Simpson fall down constantly doesn't make her Lucille Ball any more than kicking the air around my desk makes me Jackie Chan. Even as a cynical cleavage-delivery machine Blonde Ambition is hopelessly botched. Cheesecake left to rot in the sun, Simpson boasts a freakish slash of bright red lipstick, electric blue eye shadow and exactly three modes–happy (big idiot smile), sad (big frowny face) and confused (big hazy question mark floating over head). Good Lord, the blow-up sex doll from Lars And The Real Girl has a more electric presence and greater range than this sentient Barbie. Hopefully it has a brighter future in film as well.
Just How Bad Is It? Every bit as awful as you'd imagine.