Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Starring Christopher Lambert, Trevor Goddard, Talisa Soto, Bridgette Wilson, Robin Shou, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Linden Ashby. (1995, PG-13, 101 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 25, 1995
First things first: taken for what it is -- a comic-book actioner based on a popular, relentlessly violent video game -- Mortal Kombat isn't half bad. Sure, there's wooden acting, wooden dialogue, and wooden sets, but on the whole it manages to reach the same level of late summer escapism as some of Tsui Hark's more accessible Hong Kong chopsocky extravaganzas. And, thankfully, it doesn't take itself very seriously at all. It is, in essence, the video game transferred part and parcel to the screen, and very well at that. Terrifically loud, bombastic, and over-the-top, Anderson's film recalls everything from those old Ray Harryhausen Sinbad adventures to more modern teen-oriented fare, throwing in everything and the proverbial kitchen sink. What there is of a plot revolves around three mortal contestants chosen to defeat the Outworld evildoer Shang Tsung (Tagawa, nicely sleazy) in a martial arts battle to save the world. Liu Kang (Shou), Johnny Cage (Ashby), and the voluptuous Sonya Blade (Wilson) are the trio of earthly heroes, and Christopher Lambert (late of Highlander 1-ad infinitum) is Rayden, the wise and wisecracking silver-maned god on their side. Not much goes on here except for battle after battle and set piece after set piece, but both battles and set pieces are filmed with vigor and originality; there are very few of the too-tight close-ups of blurred hands and feet we so often see in martial arts films, and all three leads are affable, likable cartoon fodder. It's silly, of course, but more importantly, it's a hell of a lot of fun, with plenty of above-average gags (many from the usually über-stoic Lambert, believe it or not) and some nifty Saturday matinee monsters lumbering about and bellowing at the top of their fiery lungs (not to mention the gorgeous Thailand settings). It's the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy and Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, but you may recall, you loved that stuff as a kid. I know I did.