Film: ``Street Fighter''
Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Raul Julia, Ming-Na Wen and Wes Studi
Theaters: Movies 8, Annex, Eastland, Cinema 8 (Broken Arrow, Sand
Rated: PG-13 (language, violence)
Quality: TWO STARS (on a scale of zero to four stars)
One of the best things that can be said about ``Street Fighter'' is
that it's not nearly as bad as it could've been.
After all, what we're talking about here is a movie that's based
on a video game, one in which a lot of colorful animated characters
with secret moves brutally pummel each other until one of them
Given those parameters, ``Street Fighter'' could've been little
more than a series of mindless one-on-one battles. But it's not.
Some of the mindless battles are two-on-two, or even
three-on-three. And occasionally, the mindless battles involve war
machines as well as people.
But ``Street Fighter'' has a bit more to it than that. For one
thing, it's the last performance of the late actor Raul Julia, a
man who brought plenty of life to every role he took. Here, he
plays General M. Bison, the nutty dictator of the Asian country of
Shadaloo. Like everyone else's character, Bison is a
larger-than-life stereotype, but Julia invests it with interesting
colorations and dimensions far beyond what the film requires.
The same can be said for former northeastern Oklahoman Wes Studi,
with shaved head and eye patch, playing the villainous Sagat, a
Shadaloo crime boss. Although Studi's role is secondary and doesn't
call for him to do much but scowl, he's nonetheless a striking
presence in the picture.
The story, which features a few more subplots than is really
necessary, focuses on Colonel William Guile (Jean-Claude Van Damme,
with a big American flag tatooed on his pumped-up bicep) and his
crack Allied Nations troops, and their attempt to rescue a number
of hostages being held for ransom by Bison in Shadaloo. One subplot
involves a strangely limber TV reporter (Ming-Na Wen, of ``The Joy
Luck Club''), who has her own reasons for wanting Bison's demise.
Another involves a couple of happy-go-lucky adventurers (Damian
Chapa and Byron Mann), who run afoul of Sagat. Another eventually
brings in a sumo wrestler (Peter Navy Tuiasosopo) and a kickboxer
(Grand L. Bush). Still another involves the efforts of Bison to
create an ``ultimate warrior'' (Robert Mammone).
It's like the old Will Rogers saw about Oklahoma weather: If you
don't like what's going on in the plot, stick around a few minutes
and it'll change.
These characters are all named after the characters on the video
game -- Ryu, Blanka, Balrog, and so on -- and video screens pop up
in several of the film's scenes. But other than that,
writer-director Steven E. de Souza pays little attention to the
``Street Fighter'' origins.
Those who have followed de Souza's career know that he's been
most successful with full-tilt action-adventure pictures (including
``Commando,'' ``Die Hard'' and ``48 HRS''). They also know that he
can be not only excessive, but mean-spirited as well (``Die Hard
2''). Here, though, with a couple of exceptions, the violence is
cartoonish (or video-gameish), and the overall feeling is pretty
much mindlessly and satisfyingly jingoistic, an approach that the
film medium can get across quite well.
(Curiously, de Souza seems to be trying to throw in Viet Nam War
symbolism every chance he gets, including a running ``Good Morning,
Vietnam''-style disc jockey.)
In publicity for the film, Universal notes that Van Damme has
amassed a huge kids' following, not because they've been able to
get in to see his R-rated features in theaters (no, of course not),
but because of cable TV and video (in other words, because their
parents weren't as good at monitoring what they should see as
America's theater managers were). Now, says the publicity, with the
release of a PG-13 movie, the kids can flock in unhampered.
Why, then, did de Souza -- or whoever -- deem it necessary to
have three or four bursts of swearing and vulgarity in the picture?
It's pointless not only because it's jarring in what is essentially
a live-action superhero cartoon, but also because the profanity
isn't profane enough to be a schoolyard word-of-mouth selling point
for the kids.