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Mortal Kombat: Annihilation

Rated PG-13, 93 min. Directed by John R. Leonetti. Starring Robin Shou, Talisa Soto, Brian Thompson, Sandra Hess, Lynn Red Williams, Irina Pantaeva, Reiner Schoene, Musetta Vander, Marjean Holden, Litefoot, Deron Mcbee, James Remar.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 28, 1997

More “sensory bombardment” than “movie,” Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is the franchise's follow-up film to its phenomenally, and unexpectedly, successful 1995 feature, which itself was based on an extraordinarily successful video game that has also spawned numerous television, theatrical, and animated spin-offs. Handily seizing the number-one position in national ticket sales during its first weekend in release, the critic-proof sequel is quickly proving that the box-office clout of Joystick Nation is no fluke. It also doesn't hurt matters that the PG-13 film, whose target audience consists of young boys of all ages, is nicely positioned between the month's two big R-rated action spectacles, Starship Troopers and Alien Resurrection. The movie is nothing more than a perpetual chain of elaborately choreographed (by returning star Robin Shou) fight sequences that mix live-action foregrounds with complexly layered digital effects and are linked together by the most flimsy and laughable of plot elements. Often all that's needed to get from one battle sequence to the next is for a character to dissolve into a poof of razzle-dazzle digital flash and transmogrify into some other shape, location, or situation. Other times characters morph more conventionally or are simply beset upon by hammer-headed, Visigoth-like entities and have no option but to fight back. But not to worry: There's no blood, broken bones (but for the occasional snapped neck), or bruises. One good example of the way the film rejects the burdens of storytelling and plot development lies in the film's basic premise. The sequel begins right where the first one left off: A band of fearless human fighters defeat the evil warlords from Outworld and close the portals that separate the two worlds, thus ensuring the safety of Earth for another generation. They begin to rejoice only to have the sequel begin with the portal being rudely ripped open by Outland emperor Shao-Kahn. The explanation? That which closes can also open again. But there's no time to even bat an eye at such lame rationales. The attack is on and the assault never lets up for the next 90 minutes. In this, the aural bombardment is equal to the visual. MK2 is, hands down, the noisiest movie of the year. Perpetual sound and music accompany every second of screen time, as in-your-face as the action and equally impossible to ignore. It's this bid for the viewers' primal stimulation centers -- and nothing more -- that makes MK2 function on terms more closely associated with vibrators than movies. Add to this the adolescent male focus on mud-wrestling females (I kid you not) and crotch shots of the various fighting beauties and you have something that makes no pretense of being anything other than what it is. You know that when an acting joke like Christopher Lambert won't even return for the sequel, some fragile line has been crossed. Sure, it's fun to witness the centaur, the four-armed Sheeva, and the other digitized thingees. The movie appeals to the same impulses that also compel us to revel in extreme sports and American Gladiators (whose Sabre, aka Lynn Red Williams, even has a role in this picture). And someone should study the certain connection between a film like this and attention deficit disorder. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is a fascinating phenomenon; it's just that I'm having a hard time thinking about it in terms of a movie.
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