The novel twists in this martial arts action-adventure are superb technical and visual effects, a tongue-in-cheek script and performers who can convey its mocking tone without stooping to the obvious.
The action revolves around a rather unusual tournament of champions. One side consists of the human league and the other is repped by the dark, unworldly forces of evil sorcerer Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). The latter group includes characters who can turn into serpents, throw spitballs of lethal ice or simply tower two stories high with four arms each with the strength to crush iron.
But the best of the flesh-and-blood crew are better than their seemingly impossible adversaries, thanks to superior intellect, an ability to adapt and the watchful tutelage of good sorcerer Rayden (Christopher Lambert). Still, in nine prior competitions, the denizens of Outworld have prevailed. If the nonhuman team prevails again, the populace of Earth becomes enslaved to the evil empire.
Director Paul Anderson and writer Kevin Droney effect a viable balance between exquisitely choreographed action and ironic visual and verbal counterpoint. There’s a vain martial arts actor (Linden Ashby) burdened by press reports that he’s a fraud; a tough drug task-force leader (Bridgette Wilson) who winds up chained to a pillar in a hopelessly silly dress; and a hero (Robin Shou) who’s reluctant despite having been ‘chosen’ to fight in Final Kombat.
Slickly stylish, pic tops its sources of inspiration with lush, crisp production values and exotic Thailand locales.