Rob’s review published on Letterboxd:
I have never seen Mortal Kombat. I played the game periodically when it was in arcades, but that was in the days when it cost 50 cents a whack, and there was no internet upon which you could look up how to make your player rip the spine out of the other dope who put 50 cents into the machine. But because that dope had the game on Nintento, and hundreds of hours with which to practice ripping my spine out, what with being in fifth grade and all, I never had a lot of interest.
My SO, however, had the arcade machine in the student union at her college. And she saw the movie during its original theatrical release. And there's a remake coming to HBO Now next week. And I made the mistake of telling her I'd never seen Paul W. S. Anderson's "classic" original adaptation. So yeah: this is happening to me now. I apologize in advance.
So, yeah: two-dimensional bad guy Shang Tsung is having a karate tournament with a bunch of superpowered goons from another world, and he wants a kung fu master, a movie star, and a SWAT cop with perfect a nice rack and perfect cheekbones to fight in it to save the world. That's it, that's the story. It's the same one from the video game, but what do you expect from a story designed to get your attention in the seven seconds it takes you to pass the Mortal Kombat machine on the way to play Galaga? If you expected an epic mythos, picture one written by Lovecraft, about 20 minutes after being pithed. But I don't want to lose focus, here.
We follow three heroes: Liu Kang, whose brother was killed by Shang Tsung; Johnny Cage, a chop-socky action movie star craving respect; and Sonya Blade, a SWAT cop who wants to hunt down an Australian stereotype with a Terminator eye because he killed a cop. They are led by Raiden, a kung-fu master with electrical powers, who is motivated not only to save the world, but to earn a check for Christopher Lambert, who was busy watching the Highlander franchise leave him behind.
(Every time the soundtrack goes mid-90s techno and the faceless voice screeches "MORTAL KOMBAT!" my SO jumps to her feet for a second, and then starts butt-dancing on the couch. I am a hostage, please help me.)
Once we get past those meager preliminaries, things are pretty much our heroes taking turns in one-on-one smack fests against people dressed like the characters from the video game. Seriously, we go from Liu Kang in a fight, to Sonya in a fight, to Johnny in a fight, repeat. There is little or no story behind who is fighting who, we're just clearing racks toward the end, so it captures the spirit of the game in that regard, at least.
But therein lies the biggest problem with the flick: all you are doing is watching a video game, and a video game from the era where the story behind it was limited by available bytes for text on the ROM chip, no less. And the Mortal Kombat story always made Bad Dudes look like A Song of Ice and Fire. Besides, if watching a video game was fun, I wouldn't have begged my parents for spare change like a desperate, trembling wino every time we passed the arcade at the mall.
Like a video game, there are no characters here, only avatars. None of these people have a personality any deeper than a urine sample; Liu Kang and Sonya want revenge of some form or sort, Johnny wants respect, and Raiden wants enough of the gross to make his condo payment. Luckily, these ciphers are made more human by dint of the fact that they are mostly slap-fighting either CGI creations made by the best special effects shops that 1995 had to offer that didn't cost very much, and / or masked fighters with code names to simultaneously mimic characters from the game, and to later deny that they were in Mortal Kombat.
The movie ends with precisely the match up you'd expect, with the outcome you'd expect, with the last-minute twist you'd expect, and with Christopher Lambert showing exactly the kung-fu expertise you'd expect, which is somewhere between Fuck and All. I'd swear Lambert negotiated for being able to sit for the entire movie, but that was the breaking point between getting points on the gross versus the net.
Mortal Kombat was as blank and empty as a fart, and I think it says something that the score included Buckethead, a knock-off who tried to replace Slash in Guns 'N Roses once. But at least it's over... except for that remake coming out in less than a week. That my SO will insist upon seeing.
Anyone know how to blink "torture" in Morse Code?