Col. Just when he was beginning to develop a more relaxed style in movies like “Hard Target” and broaden his appeal with “Timecop,” Jean-Claude Van Damme takes a career step backward in “Street Fighter,” a messy, basically plotless bigscreen rendition of the popular multimedia game. Avid users of the videogame and Van Damme’s loyal fans may embrace the film out of curiosity, but this uninvolving movie will fail to achieve the results of the star’s last outings. Still, “Street Fighter” may initially benefit from being the only holiday actioner other than “Drop Zone” and, as always with Van Damme’s vehicles, will have more bite offshore.
Electronic videogames, with their built-in audiences, present an alluring challenge for filmmakers, though they are obviously not easy to translate into exciting feature-length presentations. In fact, “Street Fighter” suffers from the same problems that impaired “Super Mario Bros.”: It is noisy, overblown and effects-laden and lacks sustained action or engaging characters. Like the 1993 picture, “Street Fighter” is too disjointed and far less captivating than the videogame that inspired it.
Van Damme plays Col. Guile, the military commander of the Allied Nations forces, assigned to defeat Gen. Bison (Raul Julia), the megalomaniac dictator of a country called Shadaloo, in order to rescue 63 kidnapped relief workers held hostage by the psychotic ruler. When the Allied Nations succumb to Bison’s demands for a huge ransom, the protesting Guile is relieved of his command. But the feisty fighter disobeys orders and leads a commando force of tough street fighters on a covert mission that brings him face-to-face with the corrupt warlord.
The two men, who play archetypes, are surrounded by some colorful characters who add flavor to the proceedings, such as attractive TV reporter Chun-Li (Ming-Na Wen), who has her personal agenda for wanting to destroy Bison; Sagat (Wes Studi), Bison’s arms supplier, who controls the toughest gang in Southeast Asia; and Dhalsim (Roshan Seth), Bison’s captive biophysicist, who’s forced to conduct unethical genetic experiments for the creation of the ultimate fighting warrior.
Steven E. de Souza, a veteran of some functional action scripts (the “Die Hard” movies, “48 Hrs.”), makes an unimpressive directorial debut in this misconceived adventure. In shooting the climactic scenes, de Souza keeps the camera too close to the action, which is too often unnecessarily fractured, failing to build any continuity or momentum. Technically speaking, the cutting, executed by five editors, leaves much to be desired.
It’s hard to fathom what motivated a star like Van Damme to take such a small , insignificant assignment that doesn’t showcase his special skills to advantage. Sporting red hair and wearing a military uniform, Van Damme delivers mostly one-liners, some of which are actually funny. Targeted for children, and Van Damme’s first PG-13-rated pic, “Street Fighter” sports a sensibility more humorous than terrifying or violent.
But Van Damme disappears for long stretches, during which the action drags and meanders in too many directions. The film’s various locations (Bangkok, Bison’s secret subterranean base) are meant to evoke the exotic settings of the likes of the James Bond movies and futuristic epics a la “Star Wars” and “Blade Runner.” Ironically, the result is just a busy, cluttered screen that is not particularly handsome — despite prodigious efforts by lenser William A. Fraker, designer William Creber and special visual and sound effects hands.
As the villain who behaves like a tyrannical emperor, Julia renders one of his weakest performances, accentuating each and every syllable as if he were reciting a Shakespearean role of grand emotional range. It’s too bad, for this is the accomplished actor’s last film, and it is dedicated to him.
“Street Fighter’s” most notable aspects are its multicultural cast, which includes black, Asian, Hispanic, Indian and British performers, and the strong role it offers to the beautiful Ming-Na Wen (“The Joy Luck Club”) as a dauntless TV reporter turned tough warrior.