[Moving picture of popcorn]

Laramie Movie Scope:
Mortal Kombat

A good martial arts action film

[Strip of film rule]
by Robert Roten, Film Critic
[Strip of film rule]

August 21, 1995 -- “Mortal Kombat,” an action film based on the popular video game, was number one at the box office last weekend. Yeah, so, is it any good? The astonishing answer is, this film is much better than it has any right to be.

I went to this film with very low expectations. I was afraid it might be as bad as “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” I was also clutching a barf bag in case the gore from the video game was repeated on the big screen. In the video game, the little figures on the screen rip people's spines out of their bodies and do other equally violent and disgusting things to each other. That's why the kids love the game so. Fortunately, the movie contains no gore, as you would expect from a PG-13 film. Instead of the gore-fest I was expecting, I found an above-average martial arts movie.

Sure, there's lots of kung-fu fighting, but in this movie, as in most kung-fu flicks, the fights are so stylized they are more like some sort of grunt and kick ballet than real fighting.

There are certain conventions you come to expect in martial arts films, such as: When the hero fights more than one opponent, the opponents politely wait their turn and attack one at a time. When a bad guy with a sword takes a hefty swing down at the hero's head, the hero claps his bare hands together and catches the sword neatly between his flat palms, not only saving his skull, but not even cutting his hands in the process! This movie observes the conventions.

As a martial arts film fan, here's what I look for: Are the fights well staged and choreographed? Do they look realistic and do they flow, or are they herky-jerky, stop and go, like one fighter is pausing for the other fighter to finish his poorly rehearsed move before he starts his?

I've seen many martial arts films and this is the real deal. The fights are very good, with one exception.

The exception is a fight involving Bridgette Wilson. Wilson plays Sonya Blade, supposedly a tough cop. Instead, she looks like a soft, thin model, which she is in real life. She has no muscle tone. She's so slow that even with trick photography it is obvious her opponent is waiting for her to kick him.

Robin Shou, who plays another one of the “good guy” fighters, Liu Kang, does the best fight scenes in the film, especially the finale against a scowling, mugging villain called Shang Tsung, played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (“Rising Sun”). Shou is also the best actor in the film, which isn't saying much. The other “good-guy” fighter is Johnny Cage, played by Linden Ashby. Cage is a shallow character, but he does have a great fight scene with the deadly Scorpion (Chris Casamassa). Fans of the game say the characters' fighting styles in the movie are consistent with the video game.

Christopher Lambert (“Highlander”) plays Rayden, a sort of god in the film whose main function seems to be making smart remarks and smirking while various characters get the snot beat out of them. In “Highlander,” his main line was “There can be only one.” In this movie, his main line is (he repeats it at least three times) “I don't think so.” It just isn't as catchy. Wouldn't it be great to get paid big bucks for repeating dialogue like that?

The plot wavers a bit at first and there are some serious holes in it, but those who know say it generally follows the story in the video game. Once the fighting starts, the film moves along nicely. Plots in martial arts film are almost an afterthought, anyway. They serve only as a device to string one fight scene to the next. This plot works well enough in that regard.

The screenplay was written by Kevin Droney, who does throw in some laughs to lighten the dark tone of the film. Besides the acrobatic fights, the special effects, photography, stunts and musical score are all quite good. They spent a lot of money on this movie and it shows. Sure, it's dumb, but it is a lot of fun.

For the average moviegoer, this movie would rate a C. But if you are a martial arts or action movie fan as I am, I think you'll agree it rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

[Strip of film rule]  
Back to the Laramie Movie Scope index.
    [Rule made of Seventh Seal sillouettes]

Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)