Mortal Kombat / Mortal Kombat: Annihilation

Writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson's original — his first shot at the mainstream following his UK cult item, "Shopping," and certainly where he got his sea legs for the "Resident Evil" pictures to come — was and is big, dumb fun. No one expected anything from the game adaptation, so its playful blend of sci-fi, martial arts and good ol' fashioned action won over even people like me who'd never seen its insert-coin source material.

Basically "Enter the Dragon" with CGI effects, more colorful costumes and a pumping techno score, "Kombat" boasts numerous set pieces enjoyable enough to make you forgive just how stupid it all is. With Christopher Lambert in an albino fright wig, it's as if the whole enterprise is in on the joke.

Someone should've told cinematographer John R. Leonetti, who took the reins from Anderson for the sequel, "Annihilation." I've seen it three times now since it invaded theaters over a Thanksgiving weekend, and I still can't tell you what its mystical mumbo-jumbo is all about. It's a bad sign when only one principal cast member, Robin Shou, deigned to return. Even Lambert, a notorious straight-to-video star by then, is replaced with James Remar. (Another bad sign? When an African-American character shouts the clichéd “Now that’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!”)

It feels like one fight after another, and pretty much is, but for what? There's no punch-and-kick contest this time around, and it reeks of a bargain-basement production on the made-for-TV level of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” Too bad there's no filmmaker commentary to fill us in, because "Annihilation"'s inert nature makes me believe the cast and crew's collective heart just wasn't invested in anything beyond satisfying a release date.

As for extras, both pimp out a new "Kombat" video game with a trailer, but the prize resides on the first movie's disc by including "Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins," an animated tie-in sold separately in the glory days of VHS sell-through. A mix of traditional cartoon and then-cutting-edge computer animation, it illustrates just how far technology has come in the passing decade and a half. Like the movie it promotes, it's a harmless hoot. —Rod Lott


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