STREET FIGHTER (1994)
Director: Steven E. de Souza

Long before the PlayStation or the X-Box were ever conceptualized, the best place to be if you were a video game fan was at the arcade. And if you anywhere close to an arcade in the early '90s, then you've probably heard of one of the true arcade classics: Street Fighter II. First released by Capcom in 1991, Steet Fighter II was the sequel to a rather unremarkable game from 1987. But rather than become an inconspicuous footnote in video game history like its predecessor, Street Fighter II was a great big hit, followed by no more than five updated versions and numerous ports to home consoles. In order to capitalize on the worldwide success of the game, Universal Pictures purchased the film rights from Capcom and released their live-action cinematic adaptation to theaters in the winter of 1994. And let me tell you, folks, that if it weren't for thoroughly lame movies like Street Fighter, video game adaptations wouldn't have developed the negative reputation they've developed over the years.

STREET FIGHTER (1994)Oh boy, writing this plot synopsis is going to be a whole lot of fun. I think that in the best interests of my own sanity. I think I'm going to have to skip over a few plot points (read: screw the whole thing) and try to keep things simple. Otherwise, I'm gonna be sitting here all day explaining everything, and nobody wants that. So let's get to it.

Megalomaniacal warlord General M. Bison (Raul Julia), the dictator of the southeast Asian country of Shadaloo, has taken dozens of Allied Nations relief workers hostage. (Why it's the Allied Nations and not the United Nations, I have absolutely no clue. Probably some legal technicality.) Via a pirated television signal, he announces that if the Allied Nations fail to deliver him a ransom of twenty billion dollars within three days, the hostages will be executed.

But all hope is not lost for the forces of good. Colonel William Guile (Jean-Claude Van Damme) has lead a platoon of Allied Nation soldiers into Shadaloo, vowing to rescue the hostages and end Bison's reign of tyranny. Aiding Guile are television news reporter at that — and trained martial artist at that — Chun-Li Zang (Ming-Na Wen) and her co-conspirators Balrog (Grand L. Bush) and E. Honda (Peter Tuiasosopo), as well as Ken (Damian Chapa) and Ryu (Byron Mann), a pair of small-time hustlers who've run afoul of well-connected gunrunner, Victor Sagat (Wes Studi). It's all very convoluted, trust me, but it all somehow leads to an immense showdown at M. Bison's compound.

I made about as much sense out of that as I could without just copying the movie's Wikipedia article word for word, and I'm not completely sure it had to be that way, either. The Street Fighter games are incredibly simple; you just pick your character of choice and proceed to kick the everloving crap out of your opponent. But somewhere between the games and the live-action movie, things got a wee bit muddled. What we get with this flick is a lot more (badly done) political intrigue and a lot less awesome punchy-kicky stuff.

And really, I'd have to say that the lion's share of the blame should probably go to Steven E. de Souza, this epic's writer and director. I'll get to his directing work in a minute, but I'd like to discuss his direction first. I do applaud his efforts to try and tell some kind of story, but the problem is that he just doesn't do all that great of a job at it. The big problem is that his direction, like most action movies from the time period, is just far too generic for its own good. There isn't really anything going on to separate it from any of the million other interchangeable movies like this that star Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. I understand that the movie's target audience when it was released was primarily indiscriminate teenage boys who would have been happy with any movie featuring live-action versions of their favorite video game characters no matter how flawed it was, but couldn't de Souza have done something with a little more flair? There are a couple of well-done moments, thanks in some part to cinematographer William Fraker and music composer Graeme Revell, but overall, there's nothing that makes de Souza's work stand out.

Even worse is that de Souza's screenplay is trite, hackneyed, and full of piss-poor, groan-inducing dialogue. I'm beginning to think that "Steven E. de Souza" is a pseudonym invented by the Writer's Guild as a replacement for "Alan Smithee," because how do you go from writing Die Hard and 48 Hrs. to writing crap like Hudson Hawk, Judge Dredd, and Street Fighter? Were there significant rewrites that were out of his control, and he got stuck with the credit? Because I don't really know how to describe the script for Street Fighter, other than as bad, very bad.

I appreciate de Souza's attempt to craft a plot for the veritably plotless games, but the fact that he tries to cram every single character from Street Fighter II into the movie turns things into a convoluted, crowded mess that is nearly unable to support itself. I'm sure there was some sort of contractual obligation that necessitated as many characters as possible being included in the movie, but if de Souza had whittled the story down to just a few characters and allowed them to develop, the movie might not have been so bad. But we instead get... this.

Street Fighter is so poorly written that even scenes that are supposed to be important are done in the dumbest, cheapest ways possible. Mainly, the bit where we discover that Chun-Li, Honda, and Balrog have been captured by M. Bison's troops. This would seem like a crucial plot development, but instead of being shown what happened, it's merely stated through a bad on-screen graphic. And you have to be paying super-close attention to even catch it, too. That is LAME! I hope that the production had gone over budget and they couldn't film that scene, because if it was written that way in the script, I'm going to fly into a rage that I just may never come out of.

We'll conclude with the cast, who are a mixed bag, especially with the crummy material they've been given to work with. The best member of the cast is undoubtedly the late Raul Julia, who passed away two months prior to this flick's theatrical release. His absolutely over-the-top performance as the psychotic M. Bison is just so much fun to watch, as he delivers even the most ludicrous lines with a flamboyant glee and infuses the character with the smug pompousness that Bison needs. Jean-Claude Van Damme actually doesn't do all that badly, believe it or not. It's not his best performance, but he's still a charismatic hero. It's just disappointing that he has to deliver the world's least inspiring motivational speech to his troops, and that he has only one fight scene in the whole movie. You'd think an actor whose entire career has been based around him kicking the everloving crap out of everyone he meets would have his strengths played to, so giving Van Damme only one fight scene — and a weak one at that — is stupid.

Moving along, Ming-Na Wen does the best she can as Chun-Li, considering she's delivering some of the worst dialogue ever committed to film. That monologue she has, detailing why Chun-Li hates M. Bison so much, is the main transgressor, and the whole crappy thing just drags down Ming-Na's performance. Meanwhile, Damian Chapa and Byron Mann seem to have realized that the material is rubbish and don't bother to try all that hard. Grand L. Bush and Peter Tuiasosopo apparently realized the same thing, but they at least try and make the best of it. And am I the only one that got a real Danny Glover vibe from Bush?

I also thought that Kylie Minogue — yes, the singer — did a respectable job as Cammy, Guile's second-in-command, and Jau Tavare was amusing as preening pretty boy and cage fighter Vega. And I must admit that I really liked Wes Studi, Andrew Bryniarski, and Miguel Nez Jr. as well. Bryniarski and Nez are funny and actually entertaining in their roles, and Studi hands in what is the movie's second-best performance. Though not as over-the-top as Julia's, Studi's work here is worth seeing, one of the few bright spots in the dark abyss that is Street Fighter.

As you've hopefully gathered from this review, Street Fighter is a pretty bad movie. The only people that should even watch it at all are ultra-devoted fans of the games and people that love crappy mid-'90s kitsch. For a movie titled "Street Fighter," you'd think there'd be more street fighting. I mean, the games were nothing but street fights. But it's basically just a G.I. Joe movie featuring the characters from Street Fighter II. It's mostly just military stuff and three fights in the last half hour. This whole thing just adds up to a pitiful movie and a pitiful experience. So I'm going to give Street Fighter two stars and pray that Steven de Souza realizes just how big a mistake he made.

Final Rating: **


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