Good and Evil Clash In `Mortal Kombat,’ which topped weekend movie sales with $23 million

Mortal Kombat_

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
Aug. 21, 1995

2.5 stars

The producers of “Mortal Kombat” know that the strength of their movie is based on the actors’ abilities to execute awesome roundhouse kicks, not soliliquies.  So it’s not surprising that the sci-fi action-adventure, which opened Friday and totaled $23 million nationwide over the weekend, is heavy on fight scenes, low on plot.

While not in the same league as Bruce Lee’s groundbreaking “Enter the Dragon” or any of Jackie Chan’s films, “Mortal Kombat” is entertaining in a testosterone-pumped way.  Less violent than the popular video game on which it’s based, “Mortal Kombat” still is not for the squeamish.  Though no one’s spine is ripped from his body – at least not onscreen, anyway – one fighter’s head is iced and decapitated and various others face bone-crunching death.

All the fighting is accompanied by techno-industrial songs that are so frenetic and throbbing that MTV should appropriate these sequences and create a new series to augment its dance show, “Grind.”  “Grind Your Face,” anyone?

The plot is minimal.  Evil sorcerer Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) has led a mutant, four-armed prince to victory against human enemies for nine generations.  If the prince wins the 10th Mortal Kombat tournament, the soul-sucking Shang Tsung wins power over the weaker but better-looking earthlings.

The dark set, some of which was computer generated, alternates between looking expansive and impressive, and cheap and fake.  The multi-armed Prince Goro was especially cheesy, looking like a lame cousin of Jabba the Hutt.

As the good Lord Rayden, Christopher Lambert exhibits none of the shirtless Tarzan stances that launched his film career.  Rather, he proves to be quite the comic, speaking in a voice that sounds suspiciously like Peter Lorre’s. Lord Rayden gets satisfaction saying, “I don’t think so,” to enemies who are intent on killing him (Not a chance.  He’s invincible!) and his protege Liu Kang (Robin Shou).

A champion martial artist, Shou is showcased in some of the film’s most exciting fight sequences. Sure, his enemies come from the Dummy School of Sparring (there’s a bazillion of us and only one of him, but let’s attack him one at a time, anyhow), but that leaves more screen time to enjoy the well-muscled actor’s gravity-defying moves.  Shou, who did all his own stunts, had the McClurg Court crowd I saw the film with squealing with delight.  And that was just the men.

In a film where only two women have any roles at all, Bridgette Wilson’s spunky Sonya fares better than Talisa Soto, whose princess character requires little from her other than to look gorgeous.  It’s already been established that the lissome Sonya is a brave fighter capable of holding her own against any man.  So it rings untrue when Shang Tsung drags her away kicking and screaming and she has to play the damsel in distress.

That the producers intend to make a sequel is clear by the movie’s end, when our heroes are faced with another supernatural enemy.  To this, I say, “Go, White Ranger!”  Oh, sorry.  Wrong movie.

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