Eight years after its initial release, Paul Anderson’s “Mortal Kombat” proves to be a terribly weak movie that, although it’s aged well in terms of its visuals, its silly script, stilted acting, and sometimes amateurish action sequences all count against it. Forget for one moment that the movie’s plot revolves around the stale Bad Action B-Movie gimmick that is Tournament Fighting (previously explored in “Muscle Heat”). As action movies go, “Mortal Kombat” still suffers badly from having only one cast member who knows his way around a dojo.
Which isn’t to say “Mortal Kombat” is a bad movie. It’s one of the more successful movies based on videogames, but obviously that’s not saying much. Besides being the first American work by Brit director Paul Anderson (“Soldier”), “Mortal Kombat” features such a silly storyline that it can only exist in videogames to begin with. In a nutshell, forces of Outworld, existing in a parallel dimension to Earth, challenges Earth’s mightiest warriors every few generation to do battle for the fate of Earth. Outworld wins, they get Earth.
And so our heroes, led by Shoalin fighter Liu Kang (Robin Shou), egotistical L.A. movie action star Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby), and hardboiled cop Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson), goes to Outworld to do battle with the forces of the evil Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Aiding the humans are mythical God Rayden (Christopher Lambert) and Outworld Princess Kitana (Talisa Soto). The only-human trio fight, engage in badly written banter, fight some more, and finally Robin Shou (who may have the worst haircut in cinematic history for men) battles Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (who has really taken the whole “evil face” thing too far). In the end, there’s room for a sequel — which appears 2 years later.
To be honest, “Mortal Kombat” is just not a very good movie, even though I suspect that when I first saw it in theaters with loud booming speakers it was something of a spectacle. Now, watching it again in 2003, one can’t help but notice just how cheesy the move’s screenplay is, or how badly acted the whole thing is. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (“Vampires”) is such a bad villain that he makes a James Bond villain look credible. And with the exception of Robin Shou, I’m pretty sure not a single member of the speaking cast had any martial arts training at the time of filming.
Action-wise, “Mortal Kombat” suffers from the aforementioned lack of martial arts ability by most of its cast. As a result, we are forced to watch Linden Ashby (“Sniper 2”) and Bridgette Wilson (“House on Haunted Hill”) fake their way through a couple of badly choreographed action sequences. I say “a couple” because the vast majority of the action is shouldered by Robin Shou, a long-time Hong Kong actor and the only one with an inkling of martial arts prowess. Next to Shou, Wilson and Ashby look embarrassingly stiff, although Ashby’s stunt double did provide some nice footwork during the fight with Scorpion.
Perhaps the saving grace of “Mortal Kombat” is its big budget, which provides the movie with a number of terrific CGI sequences. This includes scenes where Outworld warriors Scorpion and Sub Zero showcase their powers. There’s also a CGI Goro creature with 4 arms that is nicely done. But even so, the film jumps too much between vastly different locales until we’re no longer sure just how big Shang Tsung’s island is. Where exactly did those woods come from again?
I don’t want to give the impression that “Mortal Kombat” is a worthless movie. Granted, it’s not very bright, and the screenplay screams for yet another re-write. But as another vapid videogame-to-movie translation (see “Tomb Raider”), “Kombat” succeeds well enough. The soundtrack is terrific and Robin Shou’s action sequences are pretty good. Besides that, Talisa Soto (“Ballistic”) is gorgeous to look at. If you need more than these things to enjoy a movie, then steer clear of “Mortal Kombat”.
Paul W.S. Anderson (director) / Kevin Droney (screenplay)
CAST: Christopher Lambert …. Lord Rayden
Robin Shou …. Liu Kang
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa …. Shang Tsung
Linden Ashby …. Johnny Cage
Bridgette Wilson …. Sonya Blade
Talisa Soto …. Kitana
Trevor Goddard …. Kano