Review: Double Dragon (MVD Rewind Collection)
The fourteenth entry in MVD's "Rewind Collection" shines a spotlight on a movie that truly deserves a second look.
1994's Double Dragon is the big-screen adaptation of a classic video game franchise that followed two brothers--Billy and Jimmy Lee--fighting their way through mean city streets in an attempt to rescue the lovely Marian from the clutches of her kidnappers. The feature film version expanded the story, put the very fate of the world at stake, and delivered a scenery-chewing villain. Yet, Double Dragon was not a box office success, despite a big marketing push in comic books and video game magazines, and subsequently developed a reputation as a flop. I saw the movie upon its VHS release in 1995 and was disappointed. That was 24 years ago, and I hadn't watched the movie, or really even thought about it, since then.
Fortunately, we're living in a time that is steeped in nostalgia, and what was a failure in 1994 can now be great entertainment decades later. MVD's Rewind Collection serves as perfect midnight movie programming and allows us the opportunity to enjoy and rediscover a particular kind of film that has now vanished but that still holds immense entertainment value, sometimes ironically, sometimes with no irony at all. By presenting these video store staples in beautifully-restored HD majesty, digging into the production history of how they came to be, and celebrating the qualities that defined an era of entertainment, we're able to appreciate these movies in a way that we never could before.
The plot of the film is a bit different from the video game, which--to be fair--didn't really require much of a story. In this version, Billy Lee (Party of Five's Scott Wolf--not a martial artist) and Jimmy Lee (Brotherhood of the Wolf's Mark Dacascos--an 8th degree black belt) face off against a larger-than-life tyrant named Koga Shuko (Robert Patrick of Terminator 2 fame), who is bent on collecting two halves of a mystical medallion that will allow him to control...well, everything. Far from the damsel in distress is Marian, played by Alyssa Milano (from...well, all of the nineties), who is part of a street gang that wants to help Billy and Jimmy stop Koga Shuko from ruining everything. Julia Nickson (Rambo: First Blood Part II) serves as a mentor and guiding light to the brothers.
The visuals of a ravaged Los Angeles are powerful. We see a dilapidated Grauman's Chinese Theater, a collapsed Capital Records building, and the Hollywood sign is in tatters. The high waters of the Hollywood River pay homage to the history of the Los Angeles River and provides a clue as to how much nature has reasserted its dominance in this new era. It all reminds me very much of the same world we see in the movie Demolition Man, another futuristic story from just one year earlier. Arguably, Robert Patrick's bleach-blonde hair even calls back to Wesley Snipes' signature look from that movie.
In spite of all these elements (or maybe because of them), Double Dragon never quite comes together into a cohesive, compelling story. It has a tone that feels like it's constantly at war with itself. It's a post-apocalyptic action movie that is aimed at 11-year-olds, and those two things are at odds with one another. Robert Patrick gives the broadest performance in the film, but neither Scott Wolf nor Mark Dacascos are quite capable of grounding this movie. Alyssa Milano was probably the most experienced here and was quite a star in 1994, but even she's not enough to hold everything together.
In addition to the new documentary and the spotlight on Don Murphy, we're also treated to an archival "Making Of" featurette, a second behind-the-scenes featurette, the pilot of the 1993 Double Dragon animated series (the entire series comes to DVD in April of 2019), a storyboard gallery, press photos, marketing and behind-the-scenes photo galleries, TV spots, the VHS Home Video trailer, the original theatrical trailer, reversible sleeve artwork, and one of my favorite MVD Rewind Collection extras, a collectible mini-poster.