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‘Mortal Kombat’ (PG-13)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 19, 1995

Closer to "fatality" than "flawless victory," the $20 million film version of "Mortal Kombat" is likely to satisfy only the core audience already hooked on video and arcade games, and even that's not a sure thing. After all, while the game versions of Mortal Kombat have been embraced for their bloody, gratuitous carnage, the film is rated PG-13, its toned-down violence more cartoonish than horrific. Clearly, accommodations have been made in an effort to reach a wider audience.

For longtime fans accustomed to interactive involvement, in-theater vocalizing is going to have to suffice. At a packed midnight screening Thursday, it was clear "Mortal Kombat" has enough crowd-pleasing punch-outs to provoke such reactions. A mix of martial-arts and special-effects magic, the film serves its nonstop confrontations either straight up or with a twist (as when they involve Kombatants with special powers, like Sub-Zero, Reptile and Scorpion).

The action, most of which takes place in the dark, dank, other-dimensional Outworld, centers on the Order of Light Tournament, which pits three humans under the guidance of benevolent Lord Rayden (Christopher Lambert) against a legion of evil adversaries under the yoke of sorcerer Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). At stake: the very future of humanity.

Earth's titanic trio is composed of Liu Kang (Robin Shou), looking to avenge his murdered younger brother; Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby), a martial-arts movie star whose skills are widely doubted; and Sonya Blade, a Special Forces agent (1990 Miss Teen USA Bridgette Wilson, a pale thing who is hardly convincing in the role). These are not exactly the folks you'd want to bet your life on, but once they've learned to face the enemy, themselves and their worst fears (that's "Mortal Kombat's" message), they'll manage okay.

Much more interesting are the baddies—particularly the gigantic four-armed Shokan Prince Goro, who looks the way Mr. Clean might after swimming too long in the Toxic Avenger's cesspool. Though Goro is a product of a different technology, he's spiritual kin to Ray Harryhausen's classic stop-motion monsters from the '50s and '60s, lending low-tech charm to a high-tech venture that includes occasional morphing and sci-fi effects. Much of the action, however, is in the traditional martial-arts mold.

In terms of characters and plot line, director Paul Anderson (a Brit whose only previous feature was the acclaimed indie "Shopping") and writer Kevin Droney stay pretty close to the scriptures designed by "Mortal Kombat's" kreators, artist John Tobias and software designer Ed Boon. Clearly, there's no reason to mess with a cross-marketing and licensing phenomenon.

Much of the action takes place in the candle-lit caves and throne rooms of Outworld, which re-creates the ambiance of the arcade game while masking the film's budget limitations; this also explains the occasionally frenetic camera work and the soundtrack's sonic exaggerations and Dolby jolts. More a kick to the ear than to the head, "Mortal Kombat" is looking for more than quarters this time around, but as Christopher Lambert puts it (in his worst Peter Lorre imitation), "I don't think so."

Mortal Kombat, at area theaters, is rated PG-13.

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