It was clear from the time "Survivor" first aired that it was all about manufacturing personalities and story lines. Funny, then, that a movie bent on ripping off the basics of the show -- as well as the Bruce Lee movie "Game of Death" and other bits of inspiration for the Tarantino set -- can't be bothered. Hong Kong action director Corey Yuen ("The Transporter") and his writers have adapted their dubiously titled "DOA: Dead or Alive" from the video game series of the same name -- apparently convinced that the scraps of backstory originally scribbled by the gamers were plenty.
With virtually no setup at all, the movie dispatches a white-trash she-wrestler (Jaime Pressly , "My Name Is Earl"), a feisty Japanese princess (Devon Aoki , "Sin City"), and various other hardbodies to a last-man-standing competition on a remote Asian island. Actually, it's mostly women doing the butt-kicking, a bit of female empowerment yang to complement the movie's bikini-parading yin.
The group's deep-pocketed host is Eric Roberts, decked out like he dragged Hugh Hefner to Bangkok as his personal shopper. He's offering the winner of the contest a $10 million cash prize, but he's clearly up to something else -- specifically, a bit of nanotechnological nonsense whereby he traps the combatants, body-scans them, and then morphs into an extra-sensory super-fighter.
The idea of Roberts as a wire-fu master has the potential to be funny -- heck, Yuen could have even cooked up a narrative explanation for Roberts's famously crooked nose. But again, that would have required thinking beyond the last level of the game. And not surprisingly, Roberts doesn't seem quite as happy to be doing genre duty here as on "Heroes."
Pressly, by contrast, has fun in a way that's infectious. Maybe she missed the old days as a gymnast, or maybe she had an inkling that impending motherhood would ground her for a while, but she high-kicks with passion. She's still likely to be scowling the way she does when Earl swipes the last can from her six-pack, but you'll scowl with her, not at her.
Why Yuen didn't load up the movie with similar personalities is perplexing, given what the wry tone of "The Transporter" did for star Jason Statham's resume and his own. Even Yuen's action choreography feels uninspired. The best bit: a sequence revolving around assault by acupuncture needle. If only there were something to numb "DOA" viewer agony as effectively.