Double Dragon (1994)

I came into Double Dragon expecting standard ’90s martial arts movie cheese, along the lines of Mortal Kombat. And it certainly delivers in that department. What I wasn’t expecting was how genuinely surprising and entertaining it was throughout – whether it be through unexpected bit part appearances of actors who would later go on to much better things, some genuinely clever references, cheesy yet elaborate Big Trouble In Little China-esque sets and special effects, and general colorful 80s-90s style camp. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a bad movie, no question. But a surprisingly entertaining one that’s good for some laughs, knocking back a few with some friends of a quiet eve.

First of all, this was a weird choice for a decent-budget Hollywood movie, even for 1994. For reference, Double Dragon first hit arcades in the West in 1987. Street Fighter 2 came out in 1992. Not to say Double Dragon didn’t still have a significant amount of popularity as an IP, but it was very much on the wane 7 years after release of the one really big hit in the series. Super Double Dragon was the freshest release at the time, having hit the SNES in 1992, and it did modestly well but hardly “justify a Hollywood movie” type sales numbers.

I’ve got a thing for this late 80s – early 90s Hollywood take on the “punk” subculture, where it’s these preposterously colorful (and well-funded) gangs running slums, and sometimes entire cities. It’s this whole bizarre paranoid fantasy that seemed to solely spin out of the way the seedier parts of Times Square used to be (pre-Juliani) or something. Japanese game designers really ran with this image in their games of the period, and in this movie the Circle of Ripoff Life becomes complete. The film actually takes note of the almost cyberpunk-ish decayed urban setting that the games take place in, and give it an interpretation here as New Angeles, a post-Big One version of L.A. that is a lot more underwater than it used to be. As the movie progresses you get these weird little “slice of life” tidbits about everyday life in the dystopian metropolis in the form of news reports and TV commercials. Popping in to do cameos in these are George Hamilton and Vanna White as anchors (presaging Idiocracy’s hilarious spoof of Fox News), and a young Andy Dick as a spazzy weatherman.

So you’ve got an interesting, colorful setting that is surprisingly well-developed. The writing staff is another surprise. It includes Paul Dini (responsible for a lot of popular cartoons, and the Batman Arkham series thus far), and Peter Gould (currently a writer for the popular series Breaking Bad.) So there was some not-insignificant talent there … but the lead credit for writing goes to Mike Davis, whose only other credits are for movies called Sex Galaxy, Pervert! and President Wolfman … you can guess whose creative vision this movie probably followed to the greater degree.

With all that in mind … let’s crackalack into the flick!

After a quick setup showing ninjers stealing half of the Magic Double Dragon Medallion from monks in Cambodia or something, we’re introduced to Robert “T-1000” Patrick and his magnificent hair. He’ll be serving as the sleazy rich villain for our picture. One interesting bit is that they don’t make him the usual asskicking martial arts warlord … he’s just a basically competent martial artist who frequently gets knocked around by women and children. His only inherent power is being fabulously wealthy. I mean, he can turn into a nigh-invincible shadow creature with the help of the medallion, but apparently anybody can do that … without it he’s pretty much only got his hair.

Let’s have one last look at that before we move on.


Anyway, he actually delegates the medallion-stealing duties to his henchette Lash, whip-weilding stand-in for series staple Linda.

dunno about you, but yum imo. 80s do and all.

Then we meet the goofball Lee brothers, in the middle of losing the All Valley Tournament due to Billy’s reckless shenanigans. Fun fact: the “17 year old” Lees are played by Mark Dacascos (age 30 at the time) and Scott Wolf (26).

Shortly after we’re introduced to the film’s take on Abobo, who starts out as a fairly conventional punk with his 80s punk gang, in a pretty great chase scene. Wherein we learn that, even though the future is impoverished and bleak, everyone seems to be equipped with James Bond shit on their jalopies. There’s also a database that instantly gives you personal information on everyone apparently, down to how much they can bench press. Look upon the future Facebook has wrought!

After a car crash we meet up with Alyssa Milano, the last of our leads, looking not particularly Alyssa Milano-ish in her Jet Grind Radio outfit.

Robert Patrick eventually figures out the Lees have the other half of his Magic Medallion, and the rest of the movie is a protracted chase/attempt to reunite the Medallion by both sides. The whole thing is something like a slightly more spazzy (and very slightly more “adult”) sentai show, really. Even though the young Dragons caretaker/mother gets killed early on, they are kinda lacksadaisical in their revenge quest, and the jokey tone established in the outset never shifts at all.

Anyway, it’s a bad movie, no question. I was just entering my teenage years when it came out, and even back then everyone thought it was exceptionally lame. It currently sits at a comfortable 0% on Rotten Tomatoes (to be fair, with only ten reviews.) But if you have an otherwise boring eve and some gamer friends (and mild intoxicants) it’s actually kind of a fun romp just for how over-the-top and spazzy it is. It’s the antithesis of the Uwe Boll sort of life-draining bad, really.

If you have Comcast’s Xfinity Streampix thing it’s currently on there, also appears to be on Netflix.

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