KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION (1997)
Director: John R. Leonetti
Movies based on video games are a tough sell. Finding a good one is like finding a needle in a haystack. But in the summer of 1995, New Line Cinema caught lightning in a bottle with their live-action adaptation of Midway's Mortal Kombat. Though critical reaction was mixed, it made 122 million dollars at the worldwide box office and earned a reputation as the genre's standard bearer, the movie most video game movies are eventually compared to. Because of that success, New Line naturally approved a sequel. But with only two main cast members returning and the original movie's cinematographer taking over the director's chair, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation serves only to reinforce the stereotype that video game movies aren't all that great.
We pick up right where the previous movie left off, with our triumphant heroes celebrating their victory in the Mortal Kombat tournament. But their party doesn't last too long, thanks to Outworld emperor Shao Kahn (Brian Thompson) opening a portal to Earth and declaring that he's going to conquer our world no matter what. And to prove he means business, he kills Johnny Cage (Chris Conrad) within the first six minutes of the movie. Because when you want to make a statement, you start breaking necks.
So yeah, the veritable gauntlet has been thrown down. And what a gauntlet it is, too. Lord Rayden (James Remar) reveals that thanks to Shao Kahn breaking the rules of Mortal Kombat and opening the portal, our fearless heroes have six days to rectify this issue before Earth is absorbed into Outworld. Those are bad times indeed. And as the clock counts down to disaster, Rayden sends everyone is sent on their separate ways in order to find a solution while he himself seeks counsel from the Elder Gods. Liu Kang (Robin Shou) hunts for a Native American shaman named Nightwolf (Litefoot), who may or may not hold the secret to defeating Shao Kahn; Sonya Blade tracks down backup in Jax (Lynn "Red" Williams), her Special Forces partner who wears cybernetic enhancements on his arms; and Kitana (Talisa Soto) finds herself kidnapped and confronted by her resurrected mother and Shao Kahn's queen Sindel (Musetta Vander). And as you can probably surmise, each story ultimately converges and leads to a final brawl between the forces of Earth and Shao Kahn's evil minions, with the fate of Earth on the line.
Ever see a movie that was so bad, it made you feel like clawing your eyes out just in case the movie happened to burn itself into your retinas? I've seen a few, and one of them is Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Everyone involved with this movie should be ashamed of themselves for making a movie so awful, it practically killed the entire Mortal Kombat franchise. Sure, Midway still produces Mortal Kombat games on occasion, but the hot streak the franchise was on during the '90s slammed directly into a brick wall due in large part to this movie. If you do a little research, I'm sure you'll probably discover that watching this turd is listed in the Geneva Conventions as cruel and unusual punishment. The directing is laughable, much of the acting is lame, what little plot there is makes no sense, and the whole thing just hurts to watch. It's so very awful.
I'm quite tempted to just end the review right here, because I'd rather do something a little more productive than talk about this movie. But I guess I should be committed to my craft and break down just why I'm so upset with it. Up first is the direction by John R. Leonetti. You'd think that he would have picked up a few things about how to direct a feature film during his relatively extensive career as a cinematographer, but you'd be wrong. I'd almost forgive him because this is his debut as an actual director, but the movie is so bad that I just can't. His work here is so sub-pedestrian that I'm not surprised at all that the only other work he's had as a director has been The Butterfly Effect's cheesy direct-to-video sequel and a little television work. Leonetti apparently has no idea what he's doing, and it's evidenced by just how poor the movie looks. Cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti does a weak job composing shots, the sets look dreadfully cheap, the editing is questionable (a shot of one character's death is recycled for another, completely different character!), and the special effects are downright atrocious.
Seriously, what idiot at New Line decided to release the movie in theaters with special effects that look half-finished? Were they rushing to meet their release date, or was it some kind of inside joke amongst the producers? Everything just looks really, really bad. For starters, the cast is obviously performing in front of a green screen in quite a few scenes, and the effects team's failure to convincingly blend them in with their environments is distracting. And let's not forget the atrociously bad CGI. The movie's climax features Liu Kang and Shao Kahn transforming into giant dragons in order to do battle, and the entire sequence is so laughably fake that any sort of suspension of disbelief anyone has managed to maintain through the movie is immediately dashed away. The only effects in the entire movie that look halfway decent are the characters of Shao Kahn's monstrous bodyguards, four-armed warrior Sheeva and the centaur Motaro, played by Marjean Holden and Deron McBee respectively. There isn't any major improvement or advancement compared to the Goro effects from the previous movie, but they still look pretty good. Unfortunately, that little compliment isn't enough to change my opinion of the effects as a whole. It makes sense, though; everything else about the movie is horrible, the effects might as well look bad too. The music is pretty awful, as well. With an original score composed by George S. Clinton and a soundtrack full of industrial and techno bands, the movie will make you go deaf if you have your sound system's volume turned up higher than a whisper. It's invasive, offensive to the ears, and just plain bad.
And then there's the script. Though the movie has a zillion problems, the biggest one has to be the script. Screenwriters Brent V. Friedman and Bryce Zabel seem to have gotten the idea that instead of making the fans happy with a well-told story, that they'd just cram as many characters from the games into the movie as possible. Really, the movie is like the War and Peace of video game movies, because no less than twenty-two characters from the games make an appearance in the movie. Because of this, Friedman and Zabel spend too much time introducing random characters for one or two fight scenes instead of actually developing a coherent plot. If the director can't properly tell a story, it's because Friedman and Zabel can't properly write one. There's something in there about Shao Kahn and another character scheming to achieve universal domination and some other things that are in there for some reason, but everything is so nonsensical and convoluted that none of it can be made heads or tails of.
Lastly is the cast, of which pretty much all involved are ringers brought in to replace the actors from the previous movie that didn't bother returning. Apparently, everybody but those that came back had the good sense to avoid this turkey. Robin Shou reprises his role as Liu Kang and is acceptable, but thanks to how badly the movie is made, his main talent his fighting skills is practically rendered ineffective. James Remar comes in as Lord Rayden, and though his performance isn't as good or as enthusiastic as Christopher Lambert's, Remar still does an acceptable job. I also thought Sandra Hess did a good job replacing Bridgette Wilson as Sonya Blade, and she also is successful in being a believable fighter. And that's about it for the decent part of the cast, so let's get to the bad.
I wasn't quite impressed with the returning Talisa Soto, who, with this movie, continues the slide into obscurity that plagues most former Bond Girls. She doesn't have as much screen time as she did in the first film, and when she was on-screen, I got the impression that she'd rather be somewhere else. Former American Gladiators cast member Lynn "Red" Williams is supposed to be the comic relief, but unfortunately, his one-liners are as lame as his delivery. And then there's Brian Thompson as the villainous Shao Kahn. His performance fluctuates between generic B-movie bad guy and completely over-the-top madman, and he elicits more chuckles than any feelings of intimidation. The rest of the supporting cast is just playing filler characters only in the movie so the main characters can have someone to fight, so their performances are just kinda there. The only one that I felt stood out is Musetta Vander, who is entertaining in an "Eartha Kitt as Catwoman" kind of way.
I do hope you readers appreciate the tortures I put myself through for the greater good. The only way this movie could have been any worse is if it were directed by Uwe Boll. But then if it had, this review would have ended with me hanging myself, so thank God for small miracles. It isn't the absolute worst movie I've ever seen, but I'd probably put it in the top ten if pressured. It's just so incompetently made, like not a shred of thought went into producing a good movie. The original Mortal Kombat movie isn't a great movie, but it is revered by video game fans because it still managed to get a few things right and was all the more entertaining for it. Its sequel, however, is the complete opposite, doing pretty much everything wrong from the start. And that's why I'm giving Mortal Kombat: Annihilation one and a half stars. Sigh... the things I watch for my craft.
Final Rating: *½