Our series of films based on computer games continues (possible title: “Them’s Fighting Films”) with this, probably the most famous of the lot. Currently rated at 3.7 / 10 on IMDB and 12% on Rotten Tomatoes, how bad is it? Were reviewers and fans just upset this was Raul Julia’s final film?
The key to understanding this film comes, I think, from writer/director Steven E DeSouza. His writing credits include Arnie movies (“Commando”, “The Running Man”), action classics (both “48 Hrs” and the first two “Die Hard” movies), action not-so-classics (“Beverly Hills Cop 3”, the first and worst “Judge Dredd”) and, crucially to us, “Hudson Hawk”. That film’s OTT nature – acting, plot and colours – is the same here, and I think it could reasonably be said that this film is that one’s spiritual sequel. If that idea horrifies you, sorry to see you go; if if doesn’t, read on.
Crisis in Shadaloo! Shadaloo is a country which seems like a mix of Thailand and Russia, and is home to the super-evil warlord General M Bison (Julia). He, along with henchman Zangief (Andrew Bryniarski, who we also loved in “Hudson Hawk”) and his red-and-black-clad soldiers, have kidnapped a large group of Westerners and the Allied Nations, led by Colonel Guile (Jean-Claude Van Damme), want to put a stop to his reign of terror. Into this are dropped Ken and Ryu, a couple of hustlers who try and trick arms dealer Sagat and his sidekick Vega, aka “Mexican Hugh Jackman”; Chun Li, Balrog and E Honda, the presenter and crew of the CNN standin; and Bison’s kidnapped scientist Dhalsim and scientific experiment Blanka.
This represents the majority of the characters from “Street Fighter 2”, perhaps the best-regarded video fighting game of all time. There are a few others (Kylie Minogue plays Cammy, one of Guile’s lieutenants, for example), but…there are a lot of different versions of “Street Fighter 2”, with different characters and clothing styles and so on, and it’s a pretty dull street to wander down unless you really, really like the games. I’m sure some of those games have a story of some sort as well, but we’re far enough away from them to treat this movie as its own thing. Characters not from the games include the real Adrian Cronauer (the “Good Morning Vietnam” guy) as the Allied Nations radio announcer; and Simon Callow as an AN official. I do like a good British “luvvie” popping up in a film like this!
The story is sort of fun – the fictitious setting allows the film to go all out, and Bison’s idea for “Bisonopolis” with all the ransom money is a splendidly ridiculous movie villain idea. It doesn’t particularly rely on the classic 1-on-1 fighting which means it can have non-fighters like Julia, Minogue and Ming-Na Wen (as Chun-Li) in prominent roles; although the fights they do have – E Honda vs. Zangief (who gets the two funniest lines in the whole movie) and the climactic Guile vs. Bison – are great. There’s also a healthy dose of in-jokes for fans of the game which don’t detract from the movie, such as the rather convoluted ways the characters end up in their “famous” gear. Effort has been taken, is what I’m saying.
Okay, it doesn’t all work. It’d have been nice if Ken and Ryu had been played by slightly stronger actors, it’s quite long for an action-comedy and Raul Julia looks visibly ill, which sort of puts a slight damper on proceedings, knowing it’s his final movie. But this is small potatoes and doesn’t explain just why this film was so poorly received, or why this and Hudson Hawk pretty much killed off Steven DeSouza’s career. My best guess is that films that are deliberately cartoonish and OTT, with big name actors hamming it up, really struggle. People expecting another “Die Hard” or a full-on martial arts movie might be initially disappointed by “Hudson Hawk” or this. Now, over 20 years later, there’s been so many snarky reviews from people who see its poor box office, that it’s never going to get a fair crack of the whip, and that’s a shame.
It’s a fun film, full of great lines, one exchange that “Guardians of the Galaxy” ripped off (Bison saying “for me, it was Tuesday”) and deserves a rewatching with an open mind.
Rating: thumbs up
PS. While you’re watching this, just think about the woman who recorded all the sayings for Bison’s PA system. When she was saying “Hostage Pit is now open” do you think she wondered about her life choices?