Hollywood continues its love affair with video games, despite less than sterling box office results from "Super Mario Bros.," "Double Dragon" and "Street Fighter."
Now it's "Mortal Kombat" and doggone if this one doesn't have the same problem as those earlier films it's all action and no story.
Not that it's going to matter much to undiscriminating action fans, which is to say kids familiar with the "Mortal Kombat" games.
Characters from the first two games abound, as the meager plot has a trio of martial arts heroes finding themselves on a mysterious island called Outworld. There, they are required to engage in the title competitions, various one-on-one battles to the death.
The trio consists of angry Liu Kang (Robin Shou), who wants to avenge his murdered brother but is "destined for something far greater"; surly Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson), a special forces expert tracking a killer ("I work alone," she keeps saying but the guys don't listen to her, of course); and kick-'em-up movie star Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby), whose chief concerns are how he looks in the mirror and proving to the press that he does his own stunts in his films.
They are pitted against evil Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a sorcerer of Outworld who must win 10 Mortal Kombat competitions before he can conquer the Earth on behalf of an evil emperor (who doesn't show up until the end of the film). Shang has already won nine of those competitions.
Meanwhile, the threesome gets guidance from Rayden, the Thunder God, played by Christopher Lambert with tongue-in-cheek (and his usual indecipherable accent). Princess Kitana (Talisa Soto), an Outworld resident, also proves to be helpful.
The action is driven by high-kicking fight sequences and loads of razzle-dazzle special effects (some good, some cheesy), and there are plenty of both. When it does stop, the principals talk about pseudo-religious philosophies in a mumbo-jumbo manner that doesn't make a lot of sense.
Shang Tsung sucks up the souls of his foes after killing them, and he has power over all kinds of demonic warriors. (One thing I wondered about was why he would want the souls of those he had killed aren't they Mortal Kom-bat losers?)
Other villains include a four-armed giant, a venomous Scorpion, skeletal monsters along with all kinds of fireballs, collapsing sets, thick spider webs. . . .
In other words, despite a few impressive computer-generated moments, there's nothing here we haven't seen before. The filmmakers offer obvious nods to everything from Ray Harryhausen ("The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad," "Jason and the Argonauts") to Bruce Lee ("Enter the Dragon") to George Lucas ("Star Wars"). But I'm not sure any of them would be flattered.
Here, the characters are cardboard, the humor is lame and the heroes are all so unlikable most of the way that the audience won't be able or want to identify with them.
Like "Waterworld," "Mortal Kombat" also pushes the boundaries of the PG-13 rating for violence, with a surprising amount of gore and death. There is also some profanity.