Monday, May 1, 2017

MORTAL KOMBAT (1995) - **

Rated PG-13 for non-stop martial arts action and some violence
Running time: 101 min.
Release date: August 18, 1995

Based on the popular video game of the era, Mortal Kombat probably arrived with certain expectations placed upon it by the fan base. The video game was enormously successful for its depictions of colorful characters duking it out in violent, bloody combat (spelled with a 'c' here), the movie version does indeed duplicate the characters but because the studio wanted kids to be able to partake (hence, increasing the box office take) the PG-13 rating prevents some of the gore that some of the hardcore fans may have been expecting. However, that is the least of this film's issues.

Let's start with the plot, for instance. Liu Kane (Robin Shou) is a former Shaolin monk who seeks revenge for the death of his younger brother. Okay, that's fine. Revenge is an often-used trope in action films, so we can handle this. Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) is a Hollywood action-movie star who is labelled a fake by the media. We're unclear how he is a fake since he is a movie star and his entire career hinges on him pretending to be someone else. Sonya Blade is a Special Forces officer in hot pursuit of Kano (Trevor Goddard) who is responsible for the death of her partner. Kano is working with Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) in an attempt to lure Sonya onto Tsung's slow boat to Outworld. These three are, apparently, recruited by the lightning god, Raiden (Christopher Lambert), to participate in a martial arts tournament where the very fate of Earth rests on their success. Outworld, Shang Tsung's realm, has won the Mortal Kombat tournament nine consecutive times, and if they win one more, then the emperor Shao Khan gets to invade and take over Earth. The tournament itself doesn't seem to be structured like a typical tournament, with brackets and rounds. The story presents it as a series of fights for each character. The reigning champions is a four-armed brute of a mutant named Goro. He defeats an opponent and Shang Tsung steals the souls of the defeated, and apparently there are some contrivances revolving around the rules of the tournament that are seemingly made up as the story moves along, leading to some silly and confusing dialogue. Also, in this movie, apparently souls move on to the afterlife fully-clothed in karate outfits. 

Director Paul Anderson certainly doesn't lack and skill in the style department. There is a lot of energy in the film and the fight scenes are pretty solid. The sets and production design definitely have that other-dimensional feel that this movie needs. The special effects range from cheap and corny to very good, which sort of dampens some of Anderson's energy in parts. The screenplay, or the dialogue specifically, comes off as lines written by a 13-year old fan of the video games. The characters sound really dumb when trying to crack jokes that are not funny, and it feels like the movie was really dumbed down for an audience that, in most cases, are not as dumb as the makers think they are. 

Robin Shou as Liu Kang gives the best performance of the cast, mainly because his character had a backstory that was more fleshed out than the others, which helps quite a bit. Linden Ashby as Johnny Cage tries to be the comic relief, with his prima donna character carting around 6 pieces of luggage and trying to make sarcastic remarks, and he generally does okay, but his character was still a notch above cardboard cutout. The worst of the three main stars is Bridgette Wilson as Sonya Blade. Wilson was apparently a last-minute replacement for original star Cameron Diaz, who injured herself during a karate-training session. Wilson's performance is wooden at best, and she looks awkward in an action role. Her performance as Veronica Vaughn in Billy Madison is much more convincing. Talisa Soto plays Princess Kitana, the adopted daughter of emperor Shao Khan, who aids the heroes in the quest for victory. This is really a throwaway role and she doesn't bring anything to the table since the character is horribly underwritten. Christopher Lambert seems miscast as Raiden, but that may be more a result of the script than anything else, as his character fluctuates between deep-thinking lightning god and silly comic relief. In the character's lighter moments, the dialogue is awful. Finally, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa provided a suitable performance as the villain Shang Tsung, with some of the more over-the-top facial expressions ever seen in a film of this caliber. 

If you're playing a villain, more of THIS, please!

Mortal Kombat has style and energy, and plenty of it. However, it lacks everything else required to enjoy and recommend a film. That being a story that isn't full of holes and contrivances, convincing or at the very least decent acting and dialogue that isn't corny and unfunny. Plus, if you're a fan of the video game and went in expecting to see heads or limbs getting torn off, you will be disappointed. In the end, Shang Tsung's catchphrase "FINISH HIM!" is used to put the viewer out of their misery.

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