Rated: PG-13 :: Released: 04 November 1994
Director: James Yukich :: Starring: Robert Patrick, Scott Wolf, Mark Dacascos and Alyssa Milano
By James D. Deaux IV
30 August 2007 — Welcome to the first of what will hopefully be a long-running movie review series — The Tranquil Tirades. Mike asked me before recording a recent episode of World's Finest Podcast if I wanted to do a regular mainpage article or review series, and I readily agreed because I have long wanted to contribute to the mainpage more often. So, I thought to myself, "Why not do something I've already done... just over and over again?" Thus, The Tranquil Tirades — a review series as scathing as it is levelheaded — was a born. If you've read my movie reviews, you know what you're in for. It could be a comic book movie, a video game movie, an anime, a video game or something else entirely. One thing is a definite, though: if it sucks, it's fair game. (I suppose that's my credo, of sorts.) For my debut, I chose yet another horrible movie based off of a video game: the one, the only (and thank heavens for that), Double Dragon.
For all intents and purposes, Double Dragon is a horrendous movie. In that vein, there is little to distinguish it from any of the other movies I've reviewed in the past like Bloodrayne and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Where Double Dragon differs in its putrescence is that Paul Dini helped write the script. Yes, the same Paul Dini who helped create Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series and the rest of the DC animated universe. Dini isn't perfect; Mike and I have criticized his writing on World's Finest Podcast, but even his worst BTAS episode is nowhere near as bad as Double Dragon — which is an embarrassment to video games, filmmaking and everything associated with that franchise.
The Double Dragon video game series was quite the rage back in the late 80s and early 90s. The games borrowed heavily from Bruce Lee's films and his martial arts style, and they were generally praised by critics and gamers. The games were simplistic enough: you play as one of the Lee brothers (get it?), Jimmy and Billy, and roam around an urban 2-D environment beating up anything that moves while trying to rescue one of the two playable character's girlfriend from a gang called the Shadow Warriors. But back when arcades were really hitting their stride, games like these laid the groundwork for their successors. Double Dragon 3 bombed critically, with many critics trashing its clunky game engine and lack of resemblance to its predecessors. In 1991, Marvel Comics released a comic book miniseries about the Lee brothers, mostly written by Dwayne McDuffie (creator of Static, and another DCAU alum). Later, a 26-episode Double Dragon cartoon series ran from 1993 through 1995. In between this, we were "graced" with a live action movie. And brother, was it ever something. What that something is, I'm not sure, but bear with me as I try to explain it.
The movie takes place in, ironically enough, 2007 in the dystopic semi-ruins of Los Angeles, now called "New Angeles". Apparently an earthquake destroyed a good portion of LA years ago and the city has sort of taken a turn for the worse. (As if.) Didn't I see this two years later in the infinitely more enjoyable Escape from LA? I swear, LA gets destroyed so many times in movies that they might as well build a new Los Angeles out on an island somewhere so that it can be rented out to the next LA disaster film crew. Anyway, other than the random disfigured gangs roaming around, we have an organization led by the T-1000... err, excuse me, Robert Patrick, who's sporting one of the goofiest hairdos imaginable. Somehow he has happened upon one half of the legendary Double Dragon, a medallion that when pieced together gives the bearer near limitless physical, mental and spiritual power. At his disposal are a prototypical dumb blond woman and two Chinese guys who seem taken aback by slight ground tremors, even though they happen virtually everyday in Overused Movie Cliché Angeles. Patrick's character, Koga Shuko, grips his half of the pendant and transforms into a watery, glowing, gray piece of paper. Apparently, that half of the Double Dragon is the one with the power of copy machine toner. He then sends his minions out to find the other half with no direction or even a lead as to where the thing might be.
After this mercifully brief scene, we cut to a not-so-brief and poorly choreographed fight scene in some underground arena. We are introduced to our protagonists (for want of a better word), the aforementioned Lees and their guardian, Satori, who possesses the other half of the Double Dragon. Now, I was under the impression that the Lees were supposed to be twins. Here, Mark Decascos and Scott Wolfe, who look about as different from one another as the Swamp Thing and Robert DeNiro, portray the brothers. And while I'm on this subject, can someone explain why Scott Wolfe not only won the role of, but was ever considered to represent Billy Lee? I mean, if Wolfe was the best they could do in the casting call, whom did they turn away? Anyway, mini-rant aside, they seem to be fighting for some prize money, but I couldn't be bothered to notice given how awful this whole scene is. Jimmy, the Asian Lee brother, seems to be the cool, calm, collected one. Conversely, Billy, the American brother, is the impulsive jackass who wants all the glory. Billy forcefully tags out Jimmy not unlike a WWE mixed tag team match and proceeds to showcase his spectacular martial arts prowess by giving their opponent a noogie. He and Jimmy are quickly disqualified, prompting Billy to scream one of the truly memorable, mature lines of the entire movie: "Eat some fist, buttheads!" With such witty, intelligent dialogue as this teeming throughout, I can't imagine how anyone couldn't love this film.
So they dolefully leave and drive through the bad part of town (well, one of them, anyway) in their armored station wagon with a giant trash-burning rocket booster on the back of it (uh... yeah). They happen upon the Mohawks, one of the many gangs of disfigured hooligans roaming the Angeles streets. These guys are much like your stereotypical cinematic Italian mobsters in that they speak almost exclusively in one- and two-word sentences; only they have none of the panache and possess 90% fewer words in their vocabulary. They seriously utter the word "buttheads" every other word. The Lees get away and an extremely boring six-minute car chase (at roughly 45mph, I should add) ensues with yet more utterances of the word "butthead" at every turn. The acting is just unspeakably bad, and it's because all of the people (notice I did not refer to them as "actors") portraying these characters emphasize the wrong words and inexplicably pause at random moments. Example: "Game ohver... uglyyyy!"
The mute button was made for this movie.
The Lees eventually manage to get away by escaping down a dead-end. Yeah, I know, it makes perfect sense to me, too. After yet another clever one-liner from Scott Wolfe, the Power Corp (a good gang, mind you) leaps from the rooftops and more or less drives away the "broomheads," as Wolfe's character so affectionately refers to them. This group is led by Alyssa Milano's character — the buzzcut beauty, Marian — whose father is a cop that despises every gang in the city, especially the Power Corp. (I smell tension!) Luckily for Marian, her dad doesn't know of her after-hours activities because she wears a wig. Great alibi! Meanwhile, back at Shuko's place, he and his goofy sidekicks play with their sunglasses, because, you know, it's the hip thing to do these days. Shuko is the kind of archetypal movie villain who talks in a loud whisper to appear really threatening. He states that when he has the power of the Dragon, New Angeles will be his. "I always wanted my own city." Why anyone would want to rule over only Los Angeles (a half-destroyed LA at that) is beyond me, but whatever. Shuko then forces Abobo, the leader of the Mohawks, who are apparently under his control for some reason, to become his own science project and he transforms him into an even uglier freak.
Back at the Lee homestead (a rundown theatre), Satori tells the brothers about the history of the Double Dragon and that its power is far too dangerous to use at the present time. So what does she do? She puts her half of the Dragon around Billy's neck. Yeah, because that's who I'd want wielding the power of 10,000 men — Scott Wolfe. Shuko and his assemblage of incompetent psuedo-martial artists barge into the theatre out of nowhere and, with a simultaneous removal of all four pairs of their sunglasses, demand the other half of the Dragon. These people just reek of coolness (and something else I can't quite ascertain). Satori refuses, of course, and several disjointed fight scenes ensue.
The Lees run away with Huey and Lewis (yes, the two Asian henchmen are named "Huey" and "Lewis") trailing behind, leaving Satori to fend off Shuko and his personal blonde sex toy, Linda Lash, by herself. She's called "Lash" because she carries a whip around all the time, get it? As usual, Jimmy utilizes real martial arts maneuvers (he actually has a pretty nifty makeshift bo staff fight here) while Billy throws basketballs and dumps gumballs all over the floor to disable his particular opponent. Once again, I have to ask how you can justify casting Scott Wolfe as a martial artist? He cannot fight. Period. The few actual attacks he pukes out are pitiful roundhouse kicks and outrageously bad punches. And they all look awful. While the laughably bad Scott Wolfe spectacle goes on, Satori has her hands full with Shuko, who once again turns into Captain Fax Machine using his half of the Dragon. The scene abruptly changes when it seems that Koga has gotten the upper hand on her.
After the Lees knock both goons out, they suddenly feel several huge thuds coming from outside. The wall is obliterated and in steps Abobo, who now looks like the illegitimate lovechild of Grand Moff Tarkin and Mojo from Uncanny X-Men. They scream and run away with Abobo slowly meandering behind them. Somehow he catches up to them, even though the Lees were running about 20 times faster than he was. They simul-scream again and start hurling whatever they can find laying around this rundown building. Billy throws a brick and misses by about 25 feet, unknowingly busting a gas line behind them. (See why I questioned Satori's reasoning for giving Billy the pendant?) Shuko, in the clever disguise of Satori, knocks out Abobo and attempts to snatch the medallion away from Billy. They lock Shuko in a cage, but he exits Satori's body and warps away leaving her locked in the cage as he and his minions set fire to the theatre. They eventually free her, but Shuko warps in front of them and tries to kill Billy. Jimmy punches his 2-D face and they escape, but Satori stays behind and locks the door, attempting to trap herself and Shuko in the building. Silly girl, he can phase through walls now. Haven't you learned anything? The Lees narrowly make it away as the building is blasted to splinters. Satori has been disintegrated, and thus, for the rest of the movie, the floodgates of hell are opened for scenes with even worse acting than before.
At this point, Shuko makes his power play, forcefully uniting all the various grotesqueries of New Angeles under his iron hairdo. This includes, but is not limited to, zombie basketball players, mimes, postal workers and guys who look like they just got off of a plane from the Ugandan jungle. The Lees, in the interim, have turned into ultra emo kids (especially Jimmy) and yell at each other about moving on and coming up with a plan or something. I wish I could better describe it, but I was so disoriented from the atrocious acting that I can't remember what they said. All I know is Billy still can't get his half of the Dragon to work, which is a theme for this movie. They eventually kiss and make up and start walking around the city. Unfortunately for them, they happen upon the entire cast of Stomp and a massive battle ensues. At this juncture I have to ask, as I have so many times in the past, is it that hard to have eight or nine guys jump one guy at the same time? Instead of ganging up on the Lees, every single one of these people (and I use that term loosely) attacks them one at a time. It's insane. Billy and Jimmy escape into a boathouse and get away down river on a small motorboat. The river catches fire after one of Shuko's minions fires a torpedo into the water narrowly missing the boat. Eventually the Lees crash into the bottom of what was once a freeway overpass and the boat explodes. The jet skiers call in the diving crew to recover the medallion, thinking they're dead. And they should be. Somehow, though, they lived. Now, I'm no physicist, but when I see someone drive headfirst into a bridge and their vehicle explodes with them still in it (and they clearly had not jumped out), I think that they should be closer to hamburger meat than human form. At least I can take consolation in the fact that they fell into a river of flammable chemicals and all manner of human excrement.
Jimmy and Billy reluctantly decide to enlist the help of the Power Corp, which, it should be noted, is nothing more than a bunch of people who look like backup dancers in your garden-variety 1980s pop music video. Interestingly enough, we find out here that Abobo survived the theatre explosion and Marian has captured him in an effort to extract information. How does she do this? By force-feeding him dozens of cans of creamed spinach, through a funnel no less. I find it odd that the 600-pound mutant Abobo can destroy concrete walls, but he can't break out of nylon ropes. Marian continues to interrogate him with the creamed nastiness when my favorite exchange of the entire movie transpires:
Marian: I need to get into Shuko's headquarters! What's he got up there? Heat sensors, infrared, what, what?!
Marian: Don't act dumb!
Abobo: I'm NOT acting!
If that isn't the height of dramatic irony, I don't know what is.
Marian teasingly agrees to help the Lees and we are taken back to Shuko's skyscraper where he is yelling at the Chinese guys and whip girl. Shuko fires Huey and Lewis for incompetence, even though it wasn't really their job to comb the toxic river for the medallion that wasn't there to begin with. I think all that hairspray leaked down into Shuko's brainstem. Downstairs, the Power Corp's battalion of rollerbladers and skateboarders utilize the ancient art of mass loitering by skating all over the lobby of Shuko's building to cause a distraction. Outside, Marian and the Lees infiltrate the Shukoscraper through the ventilation ducts to get back the other half of the Dragon. The Lees stare at Marian's ass the entire time. Unfortunately, Marian's father received a call from Shuko trying to coerce him into conceding all of New Angeles to him now that he controls all the misfits. So he's stuck in the same room as Shuko and whip girl. Marian, Jimmy and Billy try to fishhook the medallion from the desk through the ceiling but they all crash through after Lash spots them. More goofy fighting commences and the Lees fall down an elevator shaft with Marian not far behind. Despite the fact that they all slide down a rope with bare hands, all of the skin on their collective hands remains completely in tact.
Shuko transforms into liquid paper again and follows after them down into the laboratory where his zombie basketball players and various demi-humans are created. Why he chose basketball players for this little scheme baffles me, but, more importantly, what was the point of making pseudo-zombies at all? He already has control over ostensibly the entire city with or without this overworked cop's halfhearted consent. Is reanimating the dead and gene-splicing really that high on this guy's priority list? Shuko takes control of two of the creations using the medallion and he thoroughly beats down the brothers, capturing Jimmy in the process as Billy and Marian narrowly escape. While Marian and Billy catch their breath, the last remnant of decent lip-synching flushes itself down the toilet.
The gangs have completely taken over the streets at this point, and Marian's father tries to rally the troops at the precinct. (How he escaped from Shuko's building is never explained, but why bother complaining about plot holes at this point, anyway?) He orders them to get off their collective ass, but they just sit there, leaving him to take an armored Hummer out into the night by himself. Back at Shuko's headquarters, Shuko has Jimmy tied up and he demands the other half of the medallion, even though he knows he doesn't have it. Jimmy refuses to cooperate, so Shuko busts out Overused Movie Plot Device #13: "I will kill you... just as I killed your father." Apparently Shuko and the Lee's father were colleagues who discovered the medallion years ago. Shuko tried to get their father to understand how powerful the thing was and all the cool things they could do with it, but Mr. Lee just wanted it as a museum piece. So, Shuko killed him. Riveting!
At the Corp's warehouse / hideout, Marian and Billy mull over why the medallion won't work, when Marian, mistress of the obvious, states, "You just have to figure out a way to make it work." Billy, one-ups her, however, with, "I can't fight Shuko by myself. I can't. I'm not good enough." You said it, brother. Just then, the gangs of New Angeles burst through the walls of the hideout and a massive battle begins. Linda Lash starts a fight (if you can classify it as such) with Marian and egotistically asks her, "Now, who's the boss?" Tony Danza, you ignorant twit, and don't you forget it! I suppose they threw that line in there because Alyssa Milano starred on the program, but they had no right to drag that show's good name through this crapfest of a movie. Tangent aside, Marian ends up tying Lash to a pole with her whip and allows her to get elbowed in the face by some huge goon. I chuckle.
As Billy takes on two guys at once, Jimmy suddenly appears and takes out all of them in one blow. Billy is relieved until it is revealed that Shuko has Jimmy under his control. He kicks him through a giant piece of plate glass and begins to tell the tale of Romulus and Remus. Somehow, I don't think these two buffoons stack up to the characters of that epic, but hey, maybe that's just me. As he tells the story, he backs Billy up into a Double Dragon arcade machine and I promptly bury my head in my hands. That ranks right up there with the depth charge control panel being a Capcom arcade joystick setup in Street Fighter: The Movie. Only there, at least it didn't blatantly have the name of the game / movie emblazoned across the console. That is utterly embarrassing, but it's not like the whole movie isn't an abomination anyway. Shuko destroys several arcade machines trying to reach Billy, who finally gives up on the medallion and tosses it away, only to have it glow and fly right back into his hand. Huzzah, Billy has unlocked its power! And just in time, seeing as how Shuko kicks him through a concrete wall. With the protection of the medallion, Billy is unharmed. Shuko takes this opportunity to drop a sandbag on Jimmy's body, but Billy moves him out of the way in the nick of time.
Somehow Billy drops the medallion during this and Shuko recovers it, joining them together and siphoning all of the power in New Angeles into his body. The hideout is in near total darkness as Shuko splits himself into two identical creatures that resemble mutant iron maidens with swords that can slice through anything. (Think: Silver Samurai with the face of one of those priests from 300.) Abobo, who has escaped from his bathroom prison after flying into a fit of rage upon seeing himself in a mirror, runs out to where the action is. For some ungodly reason, he helps Marian by telling her to get the lights back on in the hideout. This chick has been shoving disgusting wads of vegetables down his throat and he helps her? Not to mention that he is also vicariously helping the Lees, who left him for dead in a theatre that was blown to pieces. Oh, well. I suppose if you were turned into a gigantic campfire marshmallow, you'd probably be more pissed off at Shuko, too. But this raises another question: how exactly did Abobo of all, uh, people, know how to hurt Shuko? He just runs out from nowhere and somehow has the knowledge to help the Lee brothers defeat the corrupted Double Dragon. Deus ex machina, much?
The Lees manage to avoid every sword swipe lashed out at them by the ugly twins as Marian finally gets the hideout's generator back up and running. The light hurts the creatures and breaks the medallion back into two pieces, each of which falls into the hands of the Lees. They join them together and transform into... themselves... with matching red and blue karate outfits. Apparently, the Double Dragon grants an evil person the ability to absorb the collective power of a city, but it gives flamboyant clothes to good guys. So, the Lees kick the crap out of Shuko and Jimmy takes control of his body in order to give all of his money away to the police station. He records his voice saying that he's going to give $129 million to Marian's father for the precinct. Jimmy exits Shuko's body and the bewildered Shuko is left to wonder what the hell just happened. (Kind of like me after watching this movie.) The cops arrive (a bit too late, of course) and cart him away. If Marian's father had fired the entire police force there, I would have rated this movie a 100 because it would have been awesome. And it's what he should have done. Shuko, ever the antagonist, demands his money back saying, "If you think I'm bad, wait until you see my lawyers! HAHAHAHAHA!!!" It's indescribably cheesy. Marian and the Lees discuss their future and they take off in the even goofier looking rebuilt station wagon of doom with Abobo at the wheel. The last thing we see is Huey and Lewis standing on a freeway overpass holding signs panhandling for work with someone evil. I think that about sums up the inanity of this film.
As much as I despise this movie, at least I can't bash it for being inaccurate to the video games. There wasn't much of a story in them to begin with. Still, Double Dragon is a stain on Paul Dini's résumé that thankfully seems to be, by and large, forgotten by most people. He helped write the appallingly bad script, so he shares the blame with the director, the producers, the acting coaches, the actors, the caterers and everyone else who put this waste of 85 minutes together. Something I didn't mention was the music; talk about seizure-inducing. But I suppose when your music supervisor's first name is Jellybean, you get what you pay for? Despite all of my many complaints, it is far from the worst video game-based flick. It has its moments. Despite his ghastly lines, Robert Patrick did what he could with the role. (I liken it to Raul Julia in Street Fighter, but not quite as memorable.) I think maybe it was those sunglasses that he refused to take off... even at night... while indoors that made me want to punch my television. And the broom handle fight between Huey and Jimmy in the theatre was surprisingly cool. But these enjoyable moments are both fleeting and rare. Plus, when you have to listen to the God-awful acting and ridiculously asinine techno music throughout the movie, you practically forget those miniscule moments of goodness.
Grade: 18 / 100 — The acting is among the worst you will ever see in professional cinema. That is, of course, should you ever have the displeasure of actually seeing this movie.