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MRQE Top Critic

A Mighty Heart

In A Mighty Heart, Angelina Jolie finally proves her Oscar win wasn't a fluke —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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It’s the kind of movie where you go for the laughs (some intentional) and stay for the gratuitous bloodshed.

Big Trouble on Little Earth

Playing with fire
Playing with fire

It’s hard to tell who exactly this movie is for. It’s based on the popular video game series that started way back in 1992 and unleashed its 11th installment in 2019. The original was part of a rash of ultra-violent video games that led to the formation of a video game ratings system. In that regard, the movie lives up to the source material; the CGI bloodshed flows generously and the “F” bombs are dropped with aplomb, pushing this one to red-banded trailers and an R rating, seemingly cutting out a large potential audience — those 16 and under — who might actually find this mess entertaining. Perhaps its simultaneous release on HBO Max will provide the gateway to that demographic’s access.

It’s also hard to tell what kind of movie this wants to be. It’s a hodge-podge that never really gels into something all its own. There are some cool moments of ambition — a silhouetted fighter in a sun-dried, barren landscape, for one. But efforts to evoke grandeur and an epic sweep reminiscent of David Lean’s finest are countered by a climactic tournament that takes place on a poorly executed movie set enhanced with shoddy CGI. The sense of the tactile is — yet again — the ultimate victim in the world of cinema that’s overly reliant on the digital.

Certain movies gain street cred over the decades, perhaps for no better reason than audiences finding them on cable — or streaming services — without the burden of shelling out bucks for tickets. Big Trouble in Little China has gone from a theatrical bust to a cult favorite. Even the maligned Howard the Duck — George Lucas’ notorious misfire — has mustered a fanbase outside of the character’s spate of cameos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Maybe 30 or 40 years from now Gen EE will discover this version of Mortal Kombat and consider it some sort of a treasure.

Street Fighter, Too

This reboot is mostly a dud, but at least the cast tries mightily to make something of it. In particular, Josh Lawson (Anchorman 2) is a scene-stealer as the obnoxiously aggressive Kano. He provides the bulk of the intentional humor, which has a fight all its own combatting the unintentional humor stemming from the clumsy storytelling and shabby production values.

The whole idea is poor Earth is — once again — on the brink of annihilation. This time, the dark forces come from Outworld, whose valiant soldiers of dirty fighting have won nine straight tournaments spanning the centuries. If they win their 10th, it’s lights out for Earth.

And that all ties in with a back story from 1619 that opens the movie and takes a fair amount of time in setting the stage. It establishes the ongoing conflict of the frigid Outworlder named Bi-Han (Joe Taslim, Star Trek Beyond), who later rebrands himself as Sub-Zero; he has the power to turn entire rooms into ice and people into popsicles. His nemesis is Honzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada, The Wolverine), who later self-identifies as Scorpion.

That leads to the movie’s one truly interesting idea: the heroic Honzo — one of the “good” guys — is killed by Bi-Han back in that 1619 encounter and spends the ensuing centuries in Hell, learning how to tame the flames and bring them to bear in 2021. Oh, and his progeny sport a dragon mark (the famous Mortal Kombat logo) that’s the sort of birthmark that can be transferred to another body when it demonstrates its dominance and kills the mark’s bearer.

In the meantime, Earth’s gotta pull it together and the last of the dragon-marked fighters need to find their inner superpower — their arcana — and defeat the outworlders.

Yeah. Something like that. Even with all the mayhem, blood splatters and creative methods of mutilation, this is not a nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride. It’s simply another detached extravaganza wannabe that fails to find an honest heart and connect with the audience. Despite Earth’s fate being held in the balance, there’s precious little reason to care.

Cold Storage

Sub-Zero
Sub-Zero

It’s not the first time this game’s characters have been dropped into a movie narrative. B-listers like Christopher Lambert and Talisa Soto appeared in Mortal Kombat movies back in the ‘90s. The first was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who would go on to make sloppy adaptations of Resident Evil and Monster Hunter. There’s also been a TV series and even an R-rated animated feature released last year revolving around Mortal Kombat’s centuries-spanning tournaments.

Regardless of the previous efforts and the game’s enduring popularity, this movie’s not going to do much in terms of creating new fans, particularly among non-gamers. Giving the lead character — who’s also new to the entire franchise — a wife and daughter is not enough to make it all relatable; there’s much more to connecting to a movie world than superficially packaging it all up with a pretty ribbon.

At some point, maybe somebody will think about trying again and put some serious resources into an adaptation that can more skillfully create the worlds. Here, throwing a relatively modest $95 million budget at first-time feature director Simon McQuoid indicates this was an insincere effort from restart. McQuoid’s bio notes he’s an award-winning commercial filmmaker; it’s a contrarian argument to say if you can tell a story in 30 seconds you naturally have the skills to tell an impactful story that holds together over the course of 110 minutes.

As it stands, this one awkwardly ends by trying to establish a series, one in which the next episode would feature more outlandish fighters, more extravagant power-ups, more explosive violence, more, more, more.

But. No. Based on this entry’s shaky value proposition the odds of a follow-up are not in its favor. Instead, yet another reboot will no doubt surface as part of the never-satiated process of recycling ideas.