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‘Street Fighter’ (PG-13)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 24, 1994

What can you say when a video game is more exciting and entertaining than the big-budget feature film it inspires? Not much, and that's exactly the problem with "Street Fighter," a Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle based on the popular vidgame "Street Fighter II." Of course, the filmmakers couldn't use that title, since it would screw up any possible sequels and confuse young viewers. Fortunately, we're as unlikely to see a "Street Fighter" sequel as we are to see one to the last video/film fiasco, "Super Mario Bros."

Programmed rather than plotted, "Street Fighter" is notable only for being the last film made by Raul Julia, an actor far too skilled for the demands of the evil warlord, Gen. M. Bison, but far too professional to give anything less than his best. Julia does not look good -- there is a pallor and tautness about him that's disconcerting in context -- but he plays Bison as a full-throttle madman, one who has kidnapped a bus-load of hostages, threatening to kill them unless a $20 billion ransom is paid within 72 hours.

To the inevitable rescue comes Col. Guile (Van Damme), irreverent leader of the Allied Nations troops and possessor of the most convoluted accent among many. Guile turns out to be an inspirational leader, but an inspirational speaker he's not.

In his quest, the colonel is aided by a mysterious television reporter (Ming-Na Wen of "The Joy Luck Club"), two GQ-friendly mercenary con men (Damian Chapa and Byron Mann), an ex-sumo wrestler (Peter Tuiasosopo) and a former boxer (Grand L. Bush) and a half-dozen ciphers (including Kylie Minogue, the worst actress in the English-speaking world).

Bison's hench-villians include Wes Studi as the one-eyed arms dealer Sagat, Andrew Bryniarski as brainless bodyguard Zangief and break dancer Jay Tavare as the preening cage-killer Vega. Since the film is PG-13, none of the violence that breaks out with predictable regularity is particularly believable or engrossing. Some of the film merely mimics the action of the game; at least in the game you get to participate in the bellicosity.

One major problem is that the film is made up of scenes that seldom connect; for long stretches, characters simply disappear and none of them is half as interesting as Bison to begin with. The special effects are cheesy, the costumes cloned from Nazi, sci-fi and kung fu films. First-time director Steven E. de Souza actually did much better in his scripts for another indecipherable muscle-bound actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger ("Commando" and "The Running Man"); behind the camera, his novice status is all too apparent.

Game Over.

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