The long-lived video game on which “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li” is based has reportedly gone through several versions, but this is only the second theatrical movie based on the franchise (though there was an animated follow-up). And despite the fact that the final scene is obviously meant to leave the door open for a sequel, this stinker proves that two is enough.
Not being an aficionado of the game, I can’t say whether the movie sticks close to it or not. Certainly it has little in common with the 1994 “Street Fighter,” a big, blustery, extremely stupid action flick that pitted Jean Claude Van Damme, then in his glory days, as the beret-wearing leader of a strike team against Raul Julia (in his final role) holding a bunch of hostages for ransom. But I am a regular filmgoer, and I can say that that faithful to the source or not, on its own terms it’s terrible.
The plot concocted by Justin Marks is a simple revenge tale. Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk, late of “Smallville”) is a concert pianist who still grieves the abduction of her father by the evil Bison (Neal McDonough), which she witnessed as a child. Now a formidable young lady, she determines to track down and rescue her dad—who’s been apparently kept a prisoner to serve as Bison’s financial advisor all these years. Luckily he taught her the rudiments of martial arts, and her skills are honed by a member of “The Web,” Gen (Robin Shou), who’s out to get Bison, too. Complicating things is the involvement of the Bangkok police force, represented by svelte detective Maya Sunee (Moon Bloodgood), who’s partnered up with an intrepid Interpol agent named Charlie Nash (Chris Klein).
Much of the movie is taken up by its raison d’etre, a succession of fight scenes that pit Chun-Li against a succession of foes—a glamorous nightclub hostess (Josie Ho), Bison’s burly right hand-man Balrog (Michael Clarke Duncan), a masked assassin named Vega (Taboo) and finally Bison himself. They’re choreographed without any particular imagination by Dion Lam and Jonathan Eusebio, and shot—using pretty obvious stunt doubles—in curiously sloppy style by director Andrzej Bartkowiak (“Doom,” “Exit Wounds,” “Romeo Must Die”) and cinematographer Geoff Boyle. (In one of them Duncan is assaulted by a street mob with what appear to be cabbages.) Even still, they’re something to look forward to, given that the expository scenes, which are even worse.
That’s mostly the fault of Marks’s awful dialogue, which is leaden and stilted and sorely lacking in humor (though when Bloodgood says “Sorry, Charlie” to Klein, it was surely meant as a joke). With the exception of Kreuk, who opts for a straightforward, earnest approach (a mistake in this context), the rest of the cast goes what one can only hope was the send-up route. Shou declaims like a fortune cookie, and Duncan snarls, guffaws and chews the scenery unremittingly. But Klein and McDonough really take the cake. It’s hard to know what Chris is doing, posing and preening like a young Seagal while delivering his lines with a maniacally arch tone that screams parody. As for McDonough, his every entrance is preceded by what sounds like a thunderclap and woosh of wind on the soundtrack, and he regales us with an Irish brogue (although his character, the child of Celtic missionaries orphaned as an infant, is supposed to have grown up on the streets of Bangkok).
Speaking of which, the Asian locations are used by Boyle in a thoroughly pedestrian fashion. “Chun-Li” might at least have been visually interesting, but it isn’t. And Stephen Endelman’s score is equally generic.
Maybe devotees of the video game will trek out to this ham-fisted misfire. But they’d do better to stay at home and twiddle their thumbs in front of a monitor.