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New 'Street Fighter' deserves to get KO'd

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Posted: Friday, March 6, 2009 10:00 pm

Well, this week was a bust. Between that Jonas brothers concert movie, a gender-bending university comedy, an "Eagle Eye" rip-off and a new "Street Fighter" movie, I just assumed that "Street Fighter" would be the most worthy new film to review this time. It turns out I may have been tragically wrong, but no matter: This weekend brings "Watchmen," and the ensuing weeks bring a whole slew of high-profile pre-summer releases that are sure to be better than this lot.

New In Theaters

"Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li"

1/2 (out of four)

2009, Andrzej Bartkowiak, U.S., PG-13

First viewing.

Remember that goofy little "Street Fighter" flick from 1994 starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Raul Julia (in his final movie role)? Yeah, it was stupid, but no more stupid than most other films of its kind, plus it had an irresistible energy that kept me entertained as a kid and continues to intrigue me as an adult. This new "Street Fighter" movie, on the other hand, is just as dumb as its previous incarnation but lacks the confidence and good-natured silliness we saw in the Van Damme film. Things are played relatively straight this time, with Kristin Kreuk starring as Chun-Li, a Chinese-American fighter who resolves to take down M. Bison (Neal McDonough), a slumlord who is manipulating property values in an effort to "improve" the Bangkok waterfronts. (Kinda myopic, if you ask me, and a far cry from typical nefarious plots involving world domination, but whatever.) Those looking for an opportunity to spot their favorite characters from the "Street Fighter II" arcade game should look elsewhere, as the movie only includes four fighters from that installment (Chun-Li, M. Bison, Balrog and Vega), plus a few more from other versions of the game. As the Irish crime lord, McDonough is his usual engaging self (even if his accent does keep dropping in and out), and he alone keeps the movie from becoming completely unwatchable. Chris Klein is his opposite: As a bizarrely aggressive, apparently coked-out Interpol detective, he gives us what is perhaps the worst, most over-the-top performance I have ever seen in a widely released film. But when he's given lines like, "Trust me, detective, you don't want a ticket to this dance," can you really blame him? The answer is yes. He takes bad acting to a level that was previously viewed as only theoretical, and the film as a whole isn't much better.

DVD Pick

"Super Mario Bros."

1993, Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, U.S., PG

Repeat viewing.

The movie exists primarily as a punch-line these days, but let me tell you: Back in its day, "Super Mario Bros." seemed pretty cool. It was one of the last "kiddie" films I saw in theaters before I moved on to greener cinematic pastures, but even watching the film again as an adult armed with a more refined palette, I still found myself digging on the movie's wholly unique visual sensibilities. The film follows the adventures of Brooklyn plumbers Mario and Luigi (Bob Hopkins and John Leguizamo, respectively) as they're swept up in a quest to help save Princess Daisy (Samantha Mathis) and the Mushroom Kingdom from the clutches of the evil King Koopa (none of than Dennis Hopper, presumably low on rent money). It's completely ridiculous, but the visuals (think a more crowded, less Asian-centric "Blade Runner" by way of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis," only not as good) and surprisingly spirited performances make this one video game adaptation that's worth pulling out once in a while.

Film Log

"Just Cause"

*** 1/2

1995, Arne Glimcher, U.S., R

First viewing.

For the first 80 minutes, this gritty murder mystery succeeds as an engaging, expertly paced and plotted thriller. In the opening scene, we meet Bobby Earl (Blair Underwood), a straight-laced, highly educated black man living in the Florida Everglades. A murder has occurred, and due largely to a false accusation from Bobby Earl's past, he's the prime suspect. Sheriff Tanny Brown (Laurence Fishburne, terrifying as ever) doesn't seem too concerned with the truth; he's perfectly content with the confession that Bobby Earl signs after an intense night of brutal beatings and death threats. Eight years later, Bobby Earl sits on death row and pleads with anti-death penalty crusader Paul Armstrong (Sean Connery) to work on his appeal. Armstrong reluctantly agrees, and his discovery of the truth represents one of the most feverish, compulsively watchable mysteries I've seen in a long time. After the cat is out of the bag, though, the movie descends into cliché "Cape Fear" territory. The ending isn't "bad," by any standard. It's just that with a set-up this good, one hopes for a smarter, more relevant conclusion.

"Romeo Is Bleeding"

***1/2

1993, Peter Medak, U.S., R

Repeat viewing.

Thanks to his roles as Sirius Black in the "Harry Potter" franchise and Jim Gordon in the new Batman films, Gary Oldman is gaining a wider fan base these days. It's a shame that most audiences don't seem to realize that, as much as they like these characters and Oldman's screen persona, they are only seeing the latter-day cash-cow work of an actor who is actually far more versatile and talented than his recent roles would lead you to believe. His work in "Romeo is Bleeding" is but one example of the great, gritty work this prolific character actor was churning out in the 1980s and '90s. Here he plays Jack (a solid film noir name if there ever was one), a crooked cop who willfully takes part in corruption and murder just so long as he collects his envelop full of cash each week. He's not a "bad guy," per se; he loves his wife, is civil to others and is simply trying to make a dishonest living in an even more dishonest world. But when he gets in over his head with an order to kill a femme fatale Russian assassin (Lena Olin), Jack's carefully constructed "good life" begins to come crashing down. The plot is twisty enough, but see it mainly for Oldman's heartbreaking performance as a typically weak and deeply flawed film noir anti-hero.

Jason Wallis is a News-Sentinel copy editor. He can be reached at jasonwallis@comcast.net.

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