29 November 2009

Worse than Wanted (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li)

Only one movie this time, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. The nicest thing I can say about this movie is that it just might make me look upon Wanted a little more kindly as quite possibly the worst movie ever made. Where Wanted is a mindless train-wreck of an action flick that tries desperately yet unsuccessfully to convince me it has a brain, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is a mindless train-wreck of an action flick that tries desperately yet unsuccessfully to convince me it has a heart, and I don't know if that's a worse crime or just as heinous a crime. Given that the intelligence doesn't fare any better at convincing me it exists, I'll lean toward it being worse.
To sum up an overall impression of this film: everything that I was afraid Star Trek would be, this movie is in spades. It's a dishwater-dull, contrived, and by-the-numbers action film that is only vicariously associated with a more well-known and established property, often along the lines of "in name only at best," for no better reason than to avoid being doomed to obscurity. What's worse is that Capcom's name appears three times in the film's opening credits, so their official involvement in this film would at least appear to be beyond vague attachment. Fortunately, for the sake of their reputation, this is not the case.
When discussing matters such as heart, intelligence, and integrity with action films, the question of how well the visuals and action sequences stack up and compare inevitably rises. Rather, are the film's faults overshadowed, if not forgiven, by the action sequences? The answer is no, as the fight scenes aren't even that well-choreographed or interesting to look at. They're so choppy and truncated with broken bones that mend themselves from shot-to-shot (not scene-to-scene, shot-to-shot), one would get the impression that as much got left on the cutting room floor as what got left in for the theatrical version. However, this was not the theatrical cut, but the unrated edition, so the notion of continuity errors being excused by deleted or trimmed scenes does not hold water; this is simply bad editing. When the montage of a film fails, it's often up to the mise-en-scene to take up the slack, such as the actors and their performances. This should be where the film shines as fighting games are nothing without their characters, but in fact, it's one of the film's biggest shortcomings.
Michael Clarke Duncan plays Balrog (Bison in the Japanese version of the original game, as explicitly and needlessly stated by the film's credits) and I have to feel sorry for him that his life (not just his career, but his life) will be haunted by his appearance in this film. Discovered at a gym by Michael Bay, Duncan has led a very successful career and has never, ever given a bad performance. Here, however, he gives the worst and most embarrassing performance of his career, which is really saying something given that the character of Balrog isn't all that well-defined in the first place. To call his performance hammy or camp gives it far too much credit, it is simply that unpleasant to witness. The sole saving grace, if it could be called that, to this atrocity of the actor's craft is that he's far from the worst in this film.
Bison (Vega in the Japanese version of the original game, as also explicitly and needlessly stated by the film's credits) is portrayed by Neal McDonough, whose look in this film seems to be aiming for some sort of hybrid between Robert Patrick and Ray Liotta that's been soaked in bleach for ten days and sent off to the Hitler Youth camp. Remember how in Enemy at the Gates, Ed Harris' character is portrayed in a rather sympathetic light for the first ninety minutes of the film, then does a full turnaround and murders a child, completely throwing our empathy out the window and replacing it with fully-justified and unapologetic hatred? Not only does Bison have a scene like that in the first ten minutes, but he has one every ten minutes from there onward. You could almost make a drinking game out of each close-up shot that shows his face with blood splattered on it. After the second time, even the most inattentive and distracted audience member would be yelling, "Okay, he's evil. We get it. Can we move on, please?" at the screen.
Chris Klein plays Christopher Nash, an interpol detective hot on the trail of Bison's crime syndicate. He is, without question, the low-point of this film in terms of actors. Each delivery of a line by him is so grating, jarring, and unpleasant that he makes Christian Slater's performance in Alone in the Dark look like Oscar gold.
With this many terrible performances together in one place, I'm starting to think I might be being a little too hard on these guys and overlooking a greater travesty here because, essentially, an actor is only really as good as the dialogue they're given to work with. Of all the elements that could be labeled as low points to the overall mess, the script is inarguably the source of it all. The dialogue is so unnatural, stilted, and one-dimensional that lines are not so much spoken as much as passively allowed to escape from the poisonous barbs that are the actors' collectively suppressed hatred for the audible print so far beneath them that a snake's belly in a wagon rut would be stratospheric by comparison.
Shortly after this film came out and before I'd seen it, Justin Marks, the 'audible typist' (I will not call him a writer), in an article featured on The Escapist, had expressed dread over his premature (if potentially, totally right) supposition that his upcoming adaptation of the Playstation title Shadow of the Colossus would "not be given a chance" because of not only his previous efforts at bringing Street Fighter back to the big screen after a long absence, but also because of the avid followers of Team Ico's magnum opus. I meant to write him a very angry letter that would be posted in the comments page of the article, but given that I hadn't yet seen The Legend of Chun-Li, I decided (it turned out against my better judgment) to give him the benefit of the doubt and wait until then to see if I'd have a leg to stand on. Now, I can take my stand.
I'm not going to pretend that screenwriting is easy; I write scripts, it's hard, and I don't even do it professionally, so I can't imagine the hardships and emotional traumas of having a paycheck riding on one. With Marks' statements, however, I have no sympathy anymore, and now that I have ammunition in the form of this film, I must now resurrect from the deepest, darkest corners of my memory that letter I was going to write telling him under what terms I would give his upcoming movie adaptation of one of my all time favorite PS2 games a chance to prove my preconceived notions wrong. It involved him buying me a ticket and me promising to not only reimburse him for the ticket if I was impressed by the movie, but buying another ticket on top of it to give to my ego, which will have been sitting next to me at the showing eating a giant plate of crow. I know it sounds like I'm being sarcastic, but I'm not; if he buys my ticket, and proves me wrong about his writing skills, I'll buy two tickets and even two copies of the eventual DVD release.
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