Sam Strange Remembers: MORTAL KOMBAT

Sam turns a fighting game popular for gratuitous violence into a PG-13 fairytale.

Mortal (subject to death)
Kombat (an altercation - but with a "K")
Mortal Kombat (a fight between two people, both of whom will someday die - but with a letter "K")

Sometimes you have to make a video game movie. They're pretty easy. You watch a kid play the game for a few minutes. You look at character images. You pay someone to make sure you say the names right. That's pretty much it. People don't seem to care what the characters do so long as they get to see the characters.

Mortal Kombat is no different. I actually have no idea what the movie is about. All I know is the studio demanded it have an Asian guy, a tough girl, a guy with a metal plate for a face, two ninjas - one who has a rope coming out of his hand and another who can freeze people, one four-armed monster, and that's about it. So I hired those people and let them work it out.

As far as i can tell, here's the plot: Some evil guy named Shaka Khan holds a fighting tournament every year on his island, which exists on an island-sized planet you can only get to by driving a creaky boat through extremely foggy waters.

The fighters in this tournament hail from all over the universe. But mostly from Earth because other planets are either too developed to give a shit or so underdeveloped that ninjas would just be tussling with trilobites. So fighters generally come from three different places. Obviously Earth is the main spot. But some come from a mystical magic planet where everyone is a ninja with different colored tunics and one very specific superpower which makes them look cool but keeps them from learning any real martial arts. There is also a planet full of four-armed monsters, but they are a very violent race and as a result, only one remains alive.

Shaka Khan loves the tournament, not just because it's the only time a year when he can get people to visit his island planet, but because it offers him a chance for world domination. See, if his crew (ninjas and the four-armed guy) wins the tournament ten times in a row, he gets to take over another planet. If he wins twenty times in a row, the planet will become a ninja planet. If he wins thirty times in a row, God will finally turn him into the six year old ballerina girl he always wanted to be. If he loses at any point, God makes him a bloated fatty instead.

Whenever anyone dies in the tournament, their souls fly into Shaka Khan's chest and he gains their strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and insecurities. This makes him a very complicated man but helps explain certain things, like when he invites all his new fighters to a banquet only to have muscle men throw all the food on the floor and gleefully stomp on it with a tapdancing routine. Stuff like that. You can't think of him as a magical badass. It's much more accurate to think of him as 1,200 constantly fighting toddlers.

After years and years of plucking awesome fighters from Earth, Shaka Khan doesn't exactly have the best talent pool at his disposal. His choices this year are especially weak. First, there's Johnny Cage, a skinny wimp who thinks of himself as a Hollywood hotshot after doing some stunt work as David Spade in Joe Dirt. Johnny Cage is worried that his many fans (his mom and dad) think he's just a fake fighter and longs to prove himself. Shaka Chan gives him this opportunity by telling him only the most important press gets invited to his intergalactic fighting tournament. This works.

Next is Sonja Cage, a special forces cop whose entire career revolves around arresting a metal faced bad guy named Cagey Cage. Shaka Khan needs a pretty lady at his tournament and he needs an evil metal faced guy, so he sees this as a two-for-one. Sonja doesn't actually know how to fight, but she's easy to lure. Shaka Khan simply takes the form of Cagey Cage (he can do that) and sticks his tongue out at her before running onto his scary fog ship. This works.

Last is Lou Cage, an extremely bland, wholehearted kung-fu guy. He's the easiest to convince. All Shaka Khan has to do is kill his little brother in a dream so hard that he dies in real life (he can do that). This works.

Once everyone is on the fog ship, they begin to suspect this Shaka Khan guy might not be on the level. For one, he dresses fancy and looks rich but the only food they get on the month-long journey is not "the best seafood in the Under-verse" as advertised but actually cold Long John Silvers take-out sprayed with lemon juice and arranged haphazardly on plastic dishware. Also he pops up behind them a lot, warning them of their impending doom, particularly when they are on the toilet (a bucket wrapped with a feather boa).

Luckily, they are not alone. As sort of a human-god liaison, there's also this electronic white wizard named Raymond who makes a strong case for why wizards need beards. He also warns them of their impending doom, but with nicer language and not while they're pooping as much. They're not sure what to make of him at first because he is cross-eyed and obviously has some issues with English. But his penchant for answering questions with a smirking "I don't think so" wins them over, even when they ask questions like "Will you train me?" or "Can you please tell us anything of real importance?"

Once they get to Shaka Khan's island planet, the fighting begins. The rules of the tournament are very strange and make little sense. Sometimes they fight for an audience; sometimes they fight all alone. Sometimes Shaka Khan demands the winner murder his opponent; sometimes he demands the winner keep them alive. Sometimes matches advance fighters along the tournament grid; sometimes the fights count as unofficial. It is a very ill-organized tournament.

But things go pretty well. Someone (I don't remember who) fights the ice ninja and kills him by setting him on fire. Another person fights the ninja who throws ropes out of his hand by tying his hand-rope to a bear. They beat the four-armed monster by sitting on each other's shoulders, giving them a two-arm advantage, which they don't even need as the monster's extra long torso makes him too unbalanced to stand for more than five minutes, so they just end up knocking him over and rolling him off a cliff. Then one of them fights Shaka Khan. I forget which one. But they win. I don't remember how. I don't even remember what the guy looks like.

So the good guys win and save the Earth from total annihilation. But just as they are about to leave, Satan shows up and challenges them to a big fight. This ends up meaning very little as Raymond just smirks and says "I don't think so" to him and they all go on their merry way.

At this point a countdown begins. If you want to watch the story continue in a sequel, you have to throw two quarters into your VCR before it hits zero. No one ever did.

(three stars)