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Movie Review : Can a Feature Film <i> Really</i> Be Inspired by Video Game?

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Movies inspired by video games are a tacit admission that the filmmakers couldn’t come up with any idea better than replicating two-dimensional characters that exist only as fuzzy images battering one another senseless in mall arcades.

Talk of whether the movie “Street Fighter” is “faithful” to its video-game inspiration is pointless--video games cost a quarter and last a few minutes; seeing the film costs much more and goes on interminably.

Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as Col. Guile, who leads an insurrection against the “power-mad dictator” Gen. Bison (Raul Julia) in a piece of real estate called Shadaloo.

A rainbow coalition of ethnicities and accents battle on both fronts, the film’s one and only progressive aspect. After 95 minutes of random explosions, jaw-dropping plot holes, wooden acting and special effects that would have made Ed Wood Jr. proud, the good guys claim victory, pick up their toys and go home.

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Screenwriter Steven de Souza, who has written such hits as “48 HRS.” and the “Die Hard” films, writes and makes his directorial debut here; clearly, his action sensibility (diluted for younger audiences) has hit autopilot. If the story isn’t quite incoherent, then De Souza’s klutzy direction renders it so.

This is a movie where a character must pause in the middle of the action to remind the audience, “Those guys are good guys, like us.”

“Street Fighter” features some of the worst editing to grace a studio film in a while--nearly every stunt is interrupted mid-cut in an effort to conceal the fact that a piece of action really didn’t take place; there are major continuity errors and a number of scenes that are glaringly missing. Apparently, De Souza failed to cover himself on many shots, so this Cuisinart-style editing was as good as any.

A few examples of the narrative and technical ineptitude at work here: Everyone falls for it when Guile fakes, badly, his own death; after the opening sequence, all journalists covering the Shadaloovian conflagration disappear save one; a speedboat is hidden by a “cloaking device,” but the wake it cuts in the water remains completely visible; one character, who has had hair throughout the movie, shows up bald in his last scene.

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Performances scarcely seem a consideration: De Souza didn’t even bother to get takes where his actors deliver lines without awkward pauses. Van Damme remains a glorified stunt man: agile as all get-out, but no thespian.

Julia, appearing in the last theatrical release before his death, does little more than shout histrionically and try to pop his eyes from their sockets--a depressing way to remember him.

De Souza’s wit, which gave his earlier action scripts a tart edge, has failed him here. He pitches this entire movie at the sub-literate set that, with glassy eyes, unthinkingly pumps quarter after quarter into video games.

The film’s best gag is a visual one, so twisted and arcane it clearly must have eluded the Studio Taste Police: Bison has a painting of himself rendered in the same style that mass murderer John Wayne Gacy used for his creepy clown self-portraits.

* MPAA-rating: PG-13, for “nonstop martial arts and action/violence.” Times guidelines: Also nonstop idiocy. The violence is generally of a cartoonish nature. ‘Street Fighter’

Jean-Claude Van Damme: Guile

Raul Julia: Bison

Ming-Na Wen: Chun-Li

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Damian Chapa: Ken

Kylie Minogue: Cammy

An Edward R. Pressman/Capcom Co. Ltd production, released by Universal Pictures. Written and directed by Stephen de Souza. Producer Edward Pressman, Kenzo Tsujimoto. Executive producer Tim Zinnemann, Jun Aida, Sasha Harari. Cinematographer William A. Fraker. Supervising editor Dov Hoenig. Costumes Deborah La Gorce Kramer. Music Graeme Revell. Production design William Creber. Sound Gary Wilkins. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.


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