Review by David Carter
Posted on 30 June 2009
Source Brentwood Home Video DVD
Categories Favorites: The Action Movie
American action auteur Andy Sidaris created a cycle of twelve films he jokingly referred to as “Triple B movies.” The Bs are bullets, bombs, and babes, respectively. While these elements may sound like a template for any clichéd action film from the 80s or 90s, Sidaris used them to create films that were postmodern, subversive, and thoroughly entertaining.
Do or Die begins sometime after the events of Guns, and the film’s opening scenes show the various agents enjoying a bit of down time. Donna Hamilton and Nicole Justin are attending a luau in their home base of Molokai when they are summoned away under false pretenses. Once away from the crowd, international crime lord Kane confronts the agents with a powerful threat. He informs them that starting noon tomorrow six teams of assassins will begin hunting them. Donna points out that it would be far more expeditious to kill them now, but Kane states that his sense of honor requires he give them a chance to defend themselves. The girls inform their superior Lucas of Kane’s game and they are instructed to go to Las Vegas immediately to rendezvous with other agents. Kane breaks his promise and begins the attacks at dawn the next morning but the girls handily defeat the first team and escape Molokai using disguises.
Once in Vegas, Donna and Nicole obtain a top-secret weapon and join up with Nicole’s boyfriend Bruce and new agent Rico. The foursome eludes another assassin team before traveling to Louisiana to join with the remaining agents at a riverside lodge. The third assassins’ attempt to poison them leads to a lengthy chase on land, water, and air in an impressive display of the various agents’ skills. Two more venue changes bring on two more assassin teams and the additional threat of in-fighting among the agents. Kane’s killers seem to know Donna and Nicole’s every move, leading them to suspect a spy in their ranks. To ensure their safety, the agents each go their separate ways, leaving Donna and Nicole to face the final challenge alone.
Do or Die, like Guns before it, breaks from the typical mold of a Sidaris film by utilizing guest stars in addition to his standard cast of players. Pat Morita stars as Kane and Erik Estrada returns to the Sidaris universe – though on the other side of the law – as Rico. The rest of the cast of Do or Die was pitted against him in Guns, but none of them acknowledge the similarities between Rico and the Jack of Diamonds. This type of amnesia is a recurrent theme in Sidaris’ work. Roberta Vasquez had previously portrayed a villain before becoming Donna’s partner and later films would see Julie Strain and Marcus Bagwell switch sides without acknowledgement. Sidaris referred to the technique in his autobiography as “cleaning up their dossiers,” and it is important that the transition is always from villain to hero and not the reverse. Sidaris’ world is a black and white one; characters are either wholly good or wholly evil. The lack of shades of gray means that, unlike so many action films, there are no anti-heroes—good is incorruptible but evil always has a chance for redemption.
Likely because of Estrada’s top billing he receives the rare privilege of being Donna’s love interest. One must remember that in Sidaris’ films the male and female roles are reversed, so their relationship comes at a time of Donna’s choosing and only after Rico has been rejected several times. Do or Die features four implied sex scenes, far more than most Sidaris films. Again in a subversion of the expectations for action cinema, these scenes conform more readily to a female fantasy than to a male one. Sex is always initiated by the female on a passive male, and the scenes focus more on romantic locations – a heated pool, a waterfall, a secluded forest, and in front of a fireplace, respectively – than on anatomies. The staging of these scenes is such that the emphasis is on sensuality and the participants are depicted as whole persons rather than assemblages of parts since Sidaris frames them from afar rather than in close-up, the standard for sex scenes in popular cinema.
A female-dominated sexuality pervades Do or Die in much the same way it does all of Sidaris’ work. The only member of Kane’s assassin team to be given a personality is Ava, a voluptuous Brit who vows to “blow their [Donna and Nicole’s] tits off.” Ava is shown nude, but it is important to note that she begins the scene nude and then gets dressed, ending the male fantasy rather than beginning it by undressing. A similar scene occurs with Donna and Nicole dressing, but Ava’s brief screen time is very much indicative of how Sidaris uses nudity outside of a sexual context. As she pulls on her skin-tight clothing, Ava is depicted as a figure of power rather than sex. The focus on the size of her breasts in the scene is not intended to be leering, but rather as an indication of her strength in much the same way scenes focusing on the muscular frames of Stallone or Van Damme would be. This equation between female nudity and strength – not sex – is a key theme of the Sidaris/Speir series of films. Do or Die shows Sidaris making the first moves towards a more pure sexploitation style with the inclusion of Pandora Peaks, however, and later entries into his canon will see a lessened focus on female empowerment in favor of comedy and titillation.
Do or Die is still very much concerned with eroding male domination of the action genre, however. Kane singles out Donna and Nicole as the biggest threats to his organization and employs an almost-exclusively male team to attempt to stop them. He fails in this, of course, much in the same way that the male agents do in their attempts at bravado or machismo. There is a scene in Do or Die that typifies the male/female power dynamic in Sidaris’ work, and it is one that has an analogue in all of his films. A male agent wielding an oversized six-shooter misses his target repeatedly before a female agent calmly ends the firefight with a single shot. His ineffectualness with a large gun is an obvious jab at the phallic obsessions of a Rambo and The Terminator, where weapons are chosen for size and visual impact rather than usefulness. Do or Die lampoons the size-conscious, clichéd action hero and presents women than are stronger, smarter, and more effective than their male counterparts both in the film and in action cinema as a whole.
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