Review: Street Fighter

Megalomaniac Gen. Bison (Raul Julia) has kidnapped 63 Allied Nations hostages and attached a ransom of $20 Billion to be paid within 72 hours. The general consensus by the Allied Nations command, is that the demands are to be met. Jean-Claude Van Damme is Col. Guile, leader of the Allied Nations (and featuring a couple of mercenaries-for-hire in Damian Chapa and Byron Mann as tagalongs) whose army defy orders and attempt a rescue, aiming to take down Bison and his crew in the process. Aussie pop princess Kylie Minogue is feisty  sergeant named Cammy, Ming-Na Wen plays a reporter whose father died thanks to Bison, Wes Studi plays a shady arms dealer, Andrew Bryniarski is a numbskull Russian thug, and Roshan Seth plays a scientist manipulated by Bison into transforming one of Guille’s kidnapped men (Robert Mammone’s Blanka) into a super-strong freak. Simon Callow plays a government official, in a throwaway part.

You could hear the collective sounds of millions of computer nerds crying the world over. A monumental critical misfire (but with more than decent box-office returns) was this 1994 video game adaptation from writer-director Steven E. de Souza (his debut in the director’s chair), which entirely missed the target market, who still heap dung on it today. Mr. de Souza, usually a reliable hand at writing this sort of thing (writing two of Schwarzenegger’s best “Commando” and “The Running Man”, as well as “Die Hard”) seemingly has no clue what he’s doing here as a director or writer. There’s absolutely no energy to it, but shockingly the dialogue lacks the snap and humour that one usually expects from veteran action scribe de Souza. It’s cartoony without being interestingly outlandish or colourful, and it’s not even remotely entertaining. It’s freaking dull, the one thing I didn’t expect from de Souza. The idea of a film based on the “Street Fighter” computer game isn’t an inherently bad one, but this is bland, super-corny (‘Game Over!’ Julia predictably bellows at one point) and surprisingly lacking in action.

Van Damme could probably play his lead role today, but back in 1994 he was way out of his depth in this too dialogue-heavy role. It’s easily the worst performance of his entire career, and probably the film that signalled the beginning of the end for him (unless you’re a huge mark for “Sudden Death”). He also starred in another de Souza-scripted film four years later, “Knock-Off” which was even worse, if that’s possible. But here even he seems to know how terrible it all is and acts accordingly. His scenes involving the TV media are like a crap test run for Paul Verhoeven’s excellent “Starship Troopers”. Big line up of B+ actors who are mostly wasted (Ming-Na Wen, Roshan Seth, Raul Julia, and Simon Callow all have a ‘Who do they owe money to?’ vibe about them here), but there’s also the bizarro stunt casting of ex-pat Aussie pop tart Minogue (about a decade before she even really had a hit in the US) and former boxer ‘Aussie’ Joe Bugner boggles the mind, though at least Bugner manages to be entertainingly awful, whilst ‘The Singing Budgie’ at least gives a better performance than JCVD and his uber-bad dye-job. She may be a decent TV soap actress (where she first found fame in her home country as well as a large following in the UK), but big-screen acting just isn’t Kylie’s thing. She’s cast in a ‘spunky’ tomboy role that just doesn’t suit the diminutive singer/actress. Like just about everyone else in JCVD’s crew here, she comes off like a lame-arse “G.I. Joe”, a pretty apt description of the film itself, actually. I do take slight issue with the Washington Post referring to her as ‘the worst actress in the English-speaking world’, though. She’s not even among the worst actresses to have appeared in Aussie TV soap operas, and like I said, she’s better here than JCVD. Mann and the underrated Studi come off best in underwritten roles, but they at least doesn’t embarrass themselves. Hulking Bryniarski gets the film’s only funny lines, but sadly he too is hardly in the film. Ming-Na looks damn hot, but this is far from her finest hour as an actress, despite being the only one to offer any (and only brief) action thrills. Meanwhile, as supervillain Bison, Julia, a well-respected actor, lets his costume do all the work, and sadly he died after filming was completed. Personally I think Michael Ironside or Tim Curry would’ve been a better fit in the role. Julia bloviates nefariously throughout, but stops short of giving it the true hammy gusto the role needed.

I bet die-hard fans of the game hate this film, especially the poor way they integrate the freakish Blanka into the film. Not only is it inaccurate to the game (apparently one of many changes), but he’s never allowed to cut loose and go ape-shit. A shame, because that character was my favourite in the game.

I used to think this was one of the twenty worst films I’d ever seen, but watching it again in 2018, I have to say that, awful as it is, it’s just too damn bland and nondescript to put such a label on it. Definitely a contender for Bottom 100, though. Oh, and although the film is called “Street Fighter”, the credits state that it is based on the “Street Fighter II” game. WTF? I know calling it “Street Fighter II” would be confusing, but why not base it on the original game?

Rating: D-


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