Directed by Paul Anderson
Written by Kevin Droney
Starring Christopher Lambert, Robin Shou, Linden Ashby, and Bridgette Wilson
USA, 1995


Mortal Kombat has a reputation as probably the most successful movie yet that's based on a video game. While this may be a dubious distinction in a field that includes Super Mario Brothers and Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat does indeed boast better-than-average fighting scenes and some very elaborate digital backgrounds and special effects. What it's missing, ironically, is the edge that's made Mortal Kombat the video game such a powerful icon in American pop culture.

While the video game benefits from its relentless capacity to surprise -- even shock -- and disgust, MK the movie is saddled with apparent orders from the top that the film must pander to the lowest common denominator. A film that faithfully recreated the horrific images of a typical bout with the video game -- a bare-handed decapitation here, a disembodied spinal column there -- would doubtless snare an NC-17 rating, but Mortal Kombat opts for the relatively bloodless and probably more lucrative PG-13 route.

Technically, it's surely something to see, and may even be worth your $3 on a slow night. Digital guru Alison Savitch, who was visual effects supervisor on The Abyss, heads a crew that delivers a staggering number of computer-animated special effects and backgrounds for the increasingly otherworldly combat tournament, but the movie feels way too much like a cartoon. Best scene: Scorpion, who attacks with a living, toothy "stinger" that trundles out from his open palm and snaps at adversaries in full computer-generated glory, pursues Johnny Cage through a meticulously cultivated forest that looks like something out of Last Year at Marienbad.

The cast is less interesting than the imagery. As Rayden, the god of somethingorother, Christopher Lambert talks like Mr. Cairo, but his laid-back delivery is inappropriate in such a hyperactive picture. Linden Ashby, as Cage, is supposed to be the wisecracking American, but he's flatly unfunny. Robin Shou's Liu Kang is a generic Asian hero (though it's nice to see a non-Anglo protagonist in a U.S. film), and only Bridgette Wilson's gun-toting crackerjack Sonya Blade comes close to fulfilling her camp potential. They're all upstaged by a shambling four-armed adversary named Goro, who takes up a lot of time, but does nothing to advance the storyline. By the time he's dispatched, you'll probably be aching for some action scenes that involve a little more than two people beating the hell out of each other.

DEEP FOCUS: Movie Reviews by Bryant Frazer