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


Studio: Universal

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

dies. Twice.

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.