In the l980s and '90s so many mainstream motion pictures had been transmuted into video games--from STAR WARS and BATMAN down to such dubious joystick material as THE DARK HALF and PLATOON--that the reverse, spinning a successful feature out of a best-selling video game, grew into a
Hollywood marketing vision of the Holy Grail, and just about as elusive. Thus, heedless of the pixel-driven commercial flops SUPER MARIO BROS and DOUBLE DRAGON, STREET FIGHTER arrived as a late 1994 theatrical release.
The actioner allegedly takes its inspiration and motifs from karate-tournament software Street Fighter II, though the gaudy results more resemble a G.I. Joe play set come to life. Megalomaniac warlord/druglord General Bison (Raul Julia) reigns within a high-tech fortress in the mythical nation
of Shadaloo, carrying out a fuzzy scheme to conquer the world. Unless he gets $20 billion, he threatens to kill 63 hostage relief workers. Opposing Bison is "Allied Nations" soldier extraordinaire, Colonel William F. Guile (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who recruits two kickboxers-of-fortune (Damian
Chapa, Byron Mann) as reluctant double agents to infiltrate the enemy's inner circle. Meanwhile, beautiful TV reporter Chun-Li (Ming-Na Wen) also seeks entry to Bison's lair, but only under the pretext of journalism. In fact, she's vowed to punish Bison for destroying her home village and brings
her own mini-team of avengers. Also chez Bison are arms trader Sagat (Wes Studi), seeking to do business, and Carlos (Robert Mammone), one of Guile's captured friends, who's in the long, drawn-out process of being mutated into a hulking berserker.
All these outsized personalities derive from the characters in the namesake video game, but the narrative doesn't bother to flesh them out; it just throws them all in a cauldron and lets events boil over. Good guys attack from within and without, while bad guys betray each other, switch sides,
or--in the case of Carlos--do next to nothing at all (there was a near-identical subplot about an inconsequential mutant muscle-man in DOUBLE DRAGON). Guile dodges a river of mines, diverting Bison's attention away from an Allied Nations troop assault, and the finale is a one-on-one showdown
between the hero and arch-villain; Bison seemingly unstoppable in mechanized, levitating, strength-enhancing body armor--until Guile gives him a strong kick. The Colonel is the last to escape as the fortress explodes. An aptly juvenile touch has Adrian Cronauer (the military DJ famously portrayed
by Robin Williams in GOOD MORNING VIETNAM) reciting Bison knock-knock jokes over the end credits.
STREET FIGHTER gained regrettable attention because of the untimely death of co-star Raul Julia while the picture was in post-production. The classically-trained thespian (who reportedly took the untypical assignment because his children were fans of the game), weakened by persistent illness,
succumbed to complications from a stroke, though nothing in his flamboyant turn as General Bison suggests failing health. Julia acts the role with such apparent enthusiasm it's almost easy to ignore what a minor creation Bison is, part Saddam Hussein, part Gomez Addams, all comic-strip silliness.
Van Damme, stepping at last from R-rated to PG-13 territory in acknowledgment of his young fans, logs relatively little screen time. The Belgian-born action specialist, usually accorded icon treatment, gets pushed aside by the travails of Chun-Li, Sagat, and others, yet he still manages to loom
large in the background of debuting writer-director Steven E. de Souza's screenplay. The filmmaker, best known for penning the DIE HARD features, does what he can here to add a little cartoon humor and juggle the pantheon of established combatants coherently, though only a truly diehard gamester
could distinguish Balrog from Vega. Or care.
In its noisy, pointless way, STREET FIGHTER does come close to the frenetic meandering of a video game scenario--which is precisely the problem. Video games are always more fun for the players involved than onlookers; consequently, this whole subgenre seems inherently self-defeating. As pure
eye-candy, the pic is fun, with distinguished cinematographer William A. Fraker reproducing the crayon-colored palette of a game display, though production values, despite a $35 million budget, fray a bit around the edges. Bison's floating anti-gravity command chair, never shown in its entirety,
is obviously hitched to an off-screen crane, and the sets look slightly tinny. The picture was filmed partially in Thailand and the Warner Bros. soundstages in Queensland, Australia--the latter accounting for the unpersuasive casting of petite Aussie pop star Kylie Minogue as a kung-fu commando.
While STREET FIGHTER went soft at the box-office, nobody seemed any wiser for it, and celluloid adaptations of the games Mortal Kombat and Myst moved forward apace. (Profanity, violence.)
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