How Does This Film Have Four and a Half Stars on Amazon?!
Double Dragon (1994)
As this site has grown over the years, one inarguable fact has emerged: I will watch a lot of crap for the sake of completeness. I've suffered through legitimately awful Amityville films, absolutely wretched Dirty Harry games, and not one but two Street Fighter movies. In theory, nothing should phase me at this point. But then I ran across the 1994 Double Dragon film.
Let's be clear: going in I knew this movie wasn't going to be good. It debuted during Hollywood's first attempt at making video game adaptations, arriving along side such seminal titles as Super Mario Bros. from 1993, Mortal Kombat from 1995 (which is at least enjoyably bad), and the aforementioned Street Fighter. And yet, even among all those films, Double Dragon still manages to be the worst of the set. It gives notoriously awful Mortal Kombat: Annihilation a run for its money. This is a film where you have to think somewhere, someone thought, "you know, maybe we simple shouldn't release this movie." But they did, and we all had to suffer (or at least the slim few that saw it, anyway).
Calling it a video game adaptation, though, really is a misnomer. While the Double Dragon games haven't exactly been bastions of good continuity (no two console releases, even of the same game, have the same story, characters, or mechanics). Still, this film barely pays attention to anything that happened in the games or what the story even might have been. Instead, because it was the mid-1990s and this was a low-budget film, Double Dragon goes in hard on playing like a riff of Surf Ninjas and 3 Ninjas. It's film designed to be as kid-friendly as possible, with all brain matter removed in the process. And still, even by that measure, it sucks.
Am I abusing this movie? Yes, but frankly, haven't sat through this cinematic disaster, I find myself unable to do anything else. I still have flashes of the movie caught in my head. Bad set, bad costumes, bad effects, and the many, many, many cartoonish reactions from the lead actors. Double Dragon isn't so much a movie as a live action cartoon where characterization, story, and logic are thrown out the window at the very beginning and never return. Shit happens, characters run around, and then the film resolves itself in an unsatisfying fashion. It's a movie that makes me long for the heights reached by better films in the genre. And yes, that means even Street Fighter which, let me remind you, is somehow better than this train wreck.
The film is about two adopted brothers, Billy Lee (Scott Wolf) and Jimmy Lee (Mark Dacascos), who spend their days fighting in tournaments and trying to avoid the various, colorful gangs of New Angeles. This new version of Los Angeles has been a disaster area for years after a great quake hit Souther California. That's when the cops checked out and the gangs checked in. And, behind the scenes, controlling it all, is uber-rich business tycoon Victor Guisman (Robert Patrick).
Victor, it should be noted, wants power. Far more than he already has. He's on the hunt for the legendary Double Dragon, a magic pair of amulets that grant control over the Body and the Soul. In a remote Asian village he gains one of the amulets, the Soul Dragon, but he just has to find the second. That one is in the care of Satori Imada (Julia Nickson), the adoptive mother for the Lee brothers. She passes the amulet off to them when Victor attacks, and then she dies during the battle. This leaves Billy and Jimmy to find a way to get the other half of the amulet from Victor and somehow stop his evil plans for New Angeles. And to pull it off they might just have to turn to one of the gangs, the Power Corps, and their leader, Marian (Alyssa Milano), for some help.
This film, to put it mildly, is a mess. It opens with a prologue set in the remote Asian village that seemingly sets the film in the distant past, only to then jump ahead to a low-rent, sound-stage, day-glow future setting that has absolutely nothing to do with what we witnessed before. Then the film sets itself up as a kind of Karate KidIt's the teen-friendly Rocky riff that defined a generation, with karate, montages, and a lot of power '80s rock, as Daniel LaRusso becomes the Karate Kid. flick, only to ignore that to then become a play on The Warriors. That, too, is set aside for a time so then it can be a story about cops, corporate politics, and a couple of dumb idiots in the middle. Oh, and there's magic for no reason, as the story keeps careening from one idea to another with no connective tissue in between. It doesn't so much unfold its story as shuffles a bunch of scenes together, lays them out, and then says, "done. There's your story."
There are so many flaws with the film that, frankly, it's hard to list them all. We'd literally have to go scene by scene, dissecting everything to point out every little bit of it that's wrong. We'd be here for hours, which is far too much time to spend on this shitty little film. Instead we need to figure out just what the creative team was thinking here. With so many people working on the film, did they really not have an epiphany about just how bad this movie was going to be? There's no way everyone involved couldn't have known this was a cinematic bomb about to happen.
Admittedly, the first issue is that the Double Dragon games wouldn't really give the creatives much to work with. It's a couple of dudes fighting to save a pretty girl and then, in the end, they fight each other (at least if you play the arcade game). That, frankly, could have made for a very basic construct for a film: guys go to save girl and fight their way across a town to do it. While that might not have been the deepest plot, it certainly could have delivered on what fans of the series wanted: ass kicked and lots of brutality.
But then, this film came out when everyone thought, "video games are just for kids." Thus we get a watered down take on the characters, one that treats them like overgrown kids trapped in a mild martial arts adventure. There's a lot of hamming it up, playing to the crowd of children watching (not that anyone really watched this film when it came out as it only made an anemic $4.2 Mil during its run). There are so many touches that make you think, "yeah, this was meant for little kids," when, frankly, a more mature, more developed martial arts film could have really worked with the base material of the game.
Certainly there were plenty of martial arts films being made at the time. One need only look at the oeuvre of John Claude Van Damme during that era to see that audiences were primed for a colorful, and violent, take on the material. Although, considering Street Fighter from the same year, maybe lets not suggest Van Damme as our ideal star for this hypothetical film. Still, it's not hard to envision what a stripped down, focused take on Double Dragon could have been. It wouldn't resemble this absolute tragic mess of a film at all.
No one and nothing comes out of this film smelling like roses. Scott Wolf hasn't starred in a successful film since, relegated to voice work to even get close to a hit under his belt. Mark Dacascos went on to make a bunch of martial arts films, but is probably best known as the Chairman on Iron Chef America (a series that actually puts his comedic chops to good use). Alyssa Milano fell into slashers and erotic thrillers after this and then, sadly, ended up pin Charmed (and that series is almost as bad as this film). You have to feel bad for everyone involved in this film. While the movie has gone on to largely be forgotten, it was almost a curse on everyone that starred in it.
And for what? A shitty film that failed at the Box Office? I have to feel like it would have been better to shove this on a shelf, never to see it again. I'm sure every actor involved would have been fine with that. Better that than people actually watch this miserable little movie. While I am glad I got to check this film off my list, that's only because I plan to never watch this film again. It's just so bad, so terrible, that it resides in my brain as the new low mark for terrible film making.
The most boggling fact? This film has four and a half stars on Amazon Prime. How?! Just how?