Street Fighter (1994)

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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?

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Super Cyclone (2012)

They finally did it! The Asylum made an absolutely 100% guaranteed entertaining film! Clear the front page!

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There’s a film called “Torque” (which I really ought to review for this site) which was released in the aftermath of “The Fast and the Furious”. The studio wanted their own version of that mega-profitable film, the director and most of the cast were more into subtly parodying the genre. So you have this film that pays lip service to the quick-driving, heist movie while really taking every opportunity to go gloriously over the top.
Obviously, the Asylum don’t have the same money, so when someone came along with a similar idea they had to approach things in a slightly different way. Writer – director Liz Adams chooses to expose the artifice of what she’s doing at every turn so the reasonable viewer couldn’t possibly take it seriously, so we get scenes in the middle of the worst storm of all time with beautiful blue skies and no wind; cars on highways which suddenly find themselves on winding country roads, then on highways, then back on the dirt tracks; storms powerful enough to pick up huge oil tankers which leave people directly underneath untouched; people falling into the storm-tossed ocean, but the spot of ocean they fall into being perfectly calm…and so on. There are tons of examples, and it’s wonderful.

The plot, such as it is, involves an oil rig off the coast of California drilling into some magma, or an underwater volcano or something, and releasing the pent-up power of the Earth, combining with some climate change weather weirdness to create the titular weather formation and wipe out the state. Nicholas Turturro (who has his name spelled wrong on the opening credits) is an engineer at the rig, named…World Force 3? Wool Force 3? Wolt Force 3? Everyone in the film says it slightly differently. The lava that quickly bubbles up through the bottom of their rig is the sort which you can stand right next to and have a conversation, with no ill effects, so that’s nice.

Ming-Na, who has her hairdresser on hand at all times and is never anything other than beautiful, despite oil spills and disasters and no time to clean up, is environmental scientist Jenny Sparks. She realises the super-cyclone is coming, and goes to the rig, has a couple of incredibly stilted and matter-of-fact conversations with Turturro and his friends, before flying them back to the mainland and driving around for a while. Most of the rest of the film is two sections – Ming, Nick, and a revolving cast of a few others trying to figure out a way to stop California being wiped out; and a couple of blokes trying to protect the rig. The control room at the rig has its blinds down at all times (because it’s probably someone’s suburban house they converted into a set) and the two guys spend most of their time running up or down the stairs and failing to do a damn thing.

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That’s all the plot you need, really. If the cast aren’t being as stilted and dull as possible in order to parody other Asylum films, then I think they were being blackmailed or held at gunpoint, and had to figure out the exact barest minimum of effort they could put into their dialogue in order to avoid getting shot. Someone will very kindly state what’s going on as simply as possible every five minutes or so, in case you were out of the room getting a cup of tea, which is a nice thing for the film to do for us. The army, when they get involved, are represented by two people who spend 95% of their time doing an Aaron Sorkin-style walk-and-talk round the same two sets; and they’ve got a Martin Starr-lookalike who trots out the most amazing technobabble you’ve ever heard.

Fairly near the end, they decide to beam in a character who seems to be fresh from his own film, an ace pilot who they’re relying on to fly “nano-flakes” into the centre of the cyclone. He’s never been mentioned or referenced before, gets a big buildup, then dies almost immediately. There is no way in hell this isn’t a joke, and I love it.

It’s just insane situation followed by deliberately bizarre special effect followed by mind-numbing dialogue, and it never lets up. I’m definitely in the camp of “there’s no way they could have made something this odd by accident”, and I salute everyone who was in on it. Even right at the very very end, they can’t resist slipping another joke in, as the zero-chemistry two main leads, one of whom recovered from a coma in under 5 minutes, are about to hook up.

I love this film. It’s the best thing to have the Asylum name on it ever, and I 100% recommend it to everyone reading this review.

Rating: thumbs up