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Game’s Not Over for Fans of ‘Mortal Kombat’ Series

FOR THE TIMES

Rule No. 1 of fantasy movies: Box office rules.

The mortal world was saved for a generation in 1995, when Liu Kang (Robin Shou) defeated the champion of the Outworld in “Mortal Kombat,” the movie.

Case closed. Now, everyone, back to the video game to train for the next battle in, say, 20 years. The portal between the Realm of Earth and the Outworld was closed with the solemn promise that things would remain hunky-dory for Liu and his friends.

Not so fast, pathetic humans.

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The Elder Gods didn’t count on “Mortal Kombat” making more than $100 million, including rentals. And that’s not counting foreign sales.

So rip open the portal and prepare Earth to meet its doom.

With holdovers playing Liu and his romantic interest Kitana (Talisa Soto), a new director (John R. Leonetti) and a new flock of martial artists leaping, kicking and twirling, “Mortal Kombat Annihilation” arrived Friday. The sequel is quite serious, charmless and critic-proof (in fact, it wasn’t screened for the media), and it may attract the teenagers who have made the game so popular.

Then again, it may not.

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Unlike with the video game, the outcome here is as certain as an episode of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” There will be a martial arts fight to the finish between good and evil. In this corner, the folks who play by the rules, the puny mortals. In the other corner, the folks who don’t, the Outers, who really mess up things--at least geographically--before they’re through.

Unlike with the video game, there is no apparent violence. Mortal and monster alike tumble from tall buildings, fall against crumbling walls, bounce off a variety of surfaces with no bruises or blood. Oh, a couple of bad guys dissolve, females get to fight in the mud and Jax (Lynn Red Williams) has to tear off his cybernetic, arm-length gloves before he can do his thing, but people only die when thrown into a pit of fire or when their necks are snapped with a loud soundtrack crack. Oddly, amazingly, the neck is the only bone broken anywhere.

There are lessons, of course. Underestimating the power of the human spirit gets you into trouble every time. Earth does not bend to the will of tyrants. Cheaters never win. What closes can also open again. And vice versa.

Characters from the first movie appear in this one, at least briefly, and because they are played by new faces, they must be introduced by name. So you’ll see Johnny Cage and Sub-Zero, but don’t blink.

The martial arts sequences themselves are carefully choreographed dance routines but provide neither spiritual enlightenment nor enthralling action. The video game elements--multilevel sets, the tendency for a bad guy to suddenly morph or throw out a dragon-headed coil from his midsection--are simply curves in the same thrill ride.

More than a few hands will reach for a joystick to get more involved, but alas, this is not a game. It’s only a movie.

* MPAA rating: PG-13, for nonstop martial arts violence. Times guidelines: The real head cracking is mostly off screen.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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‘Mortal Kombat Annihilation’

Robin Shou: Liu Kang

Talisa Soto: Kitana

Brian Thompson: Shao-Kahn

Sandra Hess: Sonya Blade

Lynn Red Williams: Jax

A Lawrence Kasanoff/Threshold Entertainment production, released by New Line Cinema. Director John R. Leonetti. Producer Lawrence Kasanoff. Executive producers Alison Savitch, Carla Fry, Brian Witten. Screenplay by Brent V. Friedman & Bryce Zabel. Story by Lawrence Kasanoff, Joshua Wexler, John Tobias. Cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti. Editor Peck Prior. Costumes Jennifer L. Parson. Music George S. Clinton. Production design Charles Wood. Art director Nathan Schroeder. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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