Why ‘Double Dragon’ is the worst video game movie ever made

Wide Screen

In the pantheon of terrible movies based on video games, one movie stands tall as an unrivaled pinnacle of awfulness: “Double Dragon," which came out 19 years ago this week.

Based on Technōs Japan’s iconic 1987 beat 'em up game of the same name, the “Double Dragon” movie starred Scott “Party of Five” Wolf and Mark “Iron Chef Chairman” Dacascos as Billy and Jimmy Lee, two martial artist brothers fighting to protect a mystical amulet from the evil gang lord Koga Shuko (Robert Patrick). A critical and box office flop at the time of its release, “Double Dragon” hasn’t held up very well over the past 19 years.

As the trailer and synopsis might indicate, “Double Dragon” is pretty bad. And no, not “so bad it’s good” guilty pleasure bad. It’s just plain lousy. But it can’t be worse than the infamously horrible “Super Mario Bros.” movie, can it? Yes, it can.

“Double Dragon” is so misguided and botched in its execution that it somehow manages to make the Jean-Claude Van Damme “Street Fighter” movie look like “Citizen Kane” in comparison. How difficult could it have been to adapt a video game that was basically just an hour or two of punching and kicking people in the face? Apparently, very difficult. Here are 6 reasons why "Double Dragon" worst video game movie ever made.

Scott Wolf is no Bruce Lee

One thing that becomes painfully apparent early on in “Double Dragon” is that star Scott Wolf doesn’t know a lick of kung fu. The actor spends most of the movie avoiding any real fisticuffs and leaving most of the action to co-star Mark Dacascos, who was a real-life martial arts champion by the age of seven. From high kicks and big flips, to staff spins and quick strikes, almost everything Dacascos does in the movie puts Wolf to shame. If you see Wolf’s Billy Lee doing anything even remotely impressive, it’s likely the work of a stunt double, an editor, or both. To be fair, though, the actor wasn’t cast for his martial arts prowess – Wolf got the role because he had recently signed on as the lead in the FOX television series “Party of Five.”

In the year... 2007?

Set in “New Angeles” in the year 2007 (repeatedly pronounced "twenty-oh-seven" in the movie), the events of “Double Dragon” take place several years after a major earthquake has turned Tinseltown into a dystopian island ruled by faceless corporations and weird street gangs. While it might have seemed like a bad-ass backdrop for an action movie on paper, it mostly comes off as goofy due to low production values and bad acting. And nothing dates an older sci-fi movie quite like a not-too-distant future setting that’s now years in the past.

The hair and the fashion

When you talk about decades most associated with bad hairdos and ugly clothes, the 1970s and '80s usually come to mind. But, as is becoming increasingly obvious thanks to films like “Double Dragon,” the 1990s (particularly the first half of the decade) weren’t exactly a great time for fashion, either. Case in point: Robert Patrick’s bleached-blonde flat top and ridiculous villain get-up. Alyssa Milano’s blonde crop and strange graffiti-covered pant-short things also baffle at every turn. There’s also a gang in the movie called the Mohawks whose members unsurprisingly all sport Mohawk hairdos. While it’s really not fair to hold the early '90s style du jour against the movie, the weird coifs and multi-coloured costumes make “Double Dragon” quite an eyesore.

A boat chase? Really?

As action movie set-pieces go, nothing beats a good old fashioned car chase. A boat chase, though? Not quite as entertaining. Around the midway point of “Double Dragon” our heroes find themselves on a motorboat being chased down the “Hollywood River” by ninjas on jet skis. Yes, of course “Double Dragon” has ninjas on jet skis! Despite that awesome sounding premise, the water-borne chase is one of the most boring set pieces in modern cinematic history, and ends with the Lee boys crashing their boat into a sign, exploding in a ball of fire, and somehow surviving. Soon after, the “Street Fighter” movie would try the whole boat chase angle with equally un-thrilling results.

Fourth wall-breaking jokes

“Double Dragon” featured former “Who’s the Boss?” star Alyssa Milano as the Lee brothers' ally Marian Delario, and “General Hospital” regular Kristina Wagner as Shuko’s whip-wielding henchwoman Linda Lash. Naturally, as the only two female characters in the movie, Milano and Wagner’s characters face off during the film’s climax. In a nod to their respective TV roles, the final fight between the two features some choice dialogue. At one point Linda asks Marian, “Now who’s the boss?” and when the tables are turned later on Marian tells Linda: “I generally put people in the hospital.” See what they did there?! These meta-gags might have worked a little better if the rest of the movie wasn’t so brutally unfunny and childish.

Unfortunate creature design

One of the few things that actually made the transition from video game cartridge to silver screen was the Lee brothers’ recurring rivalry with a bruiser known as Bo Abobo. Though he starts off the film as a regular run-of-the-mill tough guy, Abobo is soon transformed by Shuko into a hulking muscle monster that, for lack of a better way to describe him, resembles a giant pair of walking testicles. He didn’t look like that in the game!

“Double Dragon” is not a good movie by any means, but it’s at least a useful lesson on how not to make a movie. Based entirely off of Robert Patrick’s over-the-top performance (one of the film’s few highlights), it was clearly a lot of fun to make, but that might not be enough to get you through its 90 minute runtime. Films based on video games still aren’t very well regarded, but even the worst straight-to-DVD game movie massacre from Uwe Boll (the director responsible for the “Alone in the Dark,” “Blood Rayne,” and “Postal” movies) is a step up from this disaster.