Street Fighter (1994) — The best video game movie ever made

“For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me… it was Tuesday.”

Justin’s rating: If I dressed up like this, I’d have to kick my own butt.

Justin’s review: In 1991, the establishment of video arcades was dying painfully. As home video consoles increased in quality and accessibility, gamers found it increasingly silly to spend quarters on machines when they could play for free on their couches. Go figure. Yet a sequel to a forgettable arcade title swung things back in the arcade makers’ favor, as teens lined up to get their mitts on a title called Street Fighter II. The fighting game sported dozens of colorful characters and addicting combo action, and people just couldn’t get enough of it.

So when Hollywood latched onto the idea that popular video games would make successful movie franchises — given their built-in fan base — they went for the best sellers. Super Mario Bros., Mortal Kombat, Double Dragon, and, yes, Street Fighter.

In retrospect, Hollywood needed to cut back its caffeine intake.

Out of all of these ’90s video game translations, Street Fighter gained a majority share of the shame due to its B-list star-studded cast (this was back when Jean-Claude Van Damme had fans instead of sympathizers) and its cheery love of nonsense. I haven’t given it a lot of thought, how difficult it might be to take a fighting game with no plot or story whatsoever — just wacky character backgrounds and enthusiastic one-liners — and try to fashion a movie that would be anything other than the film equivalent of a mystery casserole.

Still, I’ve spent many a restless night struggling with the decision they came to in Street Fighter: that the best way to serve up a heapin’ hot dish of kung fu love would be to center the story around the faux-U.N.’s battle against a petty warlord in Vietnam. Okay, so it’s the “A.N.” (Allied Nations) and “Shadaloo” (which is shown on a map to be the same exact area), but still, how does a humanitarian peacekeeping mission make for a good staging ground for bloody fisticuffs?

By torturing the plot into weak-willed submission, that’s how.

Van Damme is Guile, leader of a 200-person army and a freedom war that’s somehow deserving of numerous news broadcasts and Time magazine covers. Raul Julia is M. Bison, a leather-loving dictator who is possibly the most self-deluded bad guy to ever grace the screen (his eye-bulging pronouncements were only recently topped by Jeremy Irons in Dungeons & Dragons). The other Street Fighter II characters come in as either good or bad guys, all with their “thing” and an extreme aversion to using firearms when a roundhouse kick could substitute.

Yes, Street Fighter is one of those stormtrooper flicks where only the faceless bad guys are ever shot and killed, where bullets veer wildly off their paths from the good guys to lodge into a metallic console, and where a puny pistol is far more deadly and accurate than a fully automatic AK-47.

With teenage boys its target, this movie works overtime to make Cheer Scenes pop every five minutes. A Cheer Scene, in my encyclopedia, is a moment in a movie where a character does or says something so awesomely perfect that you’re supposed to get goosebumps and raise your fist and go “Oh yeah!” Like when a bad guy all but has Luke targeted in his sights, and the Millennium Falcon swoops down, or when Bill Pullman orates the least-intelligent 4th of July speech ever. Michael Bay has never met a Cheer Scene he didn’t like, by the way.

By the end, all of the characters get to have their one big fight against their union equivalent. However, you really can’t pit Jean-Claude Van Damme against Raul Julia in a fist fight without using a bulk supply of stunt doubles and not-so-clever editing cuts. Even so, it’s a snuff film where you genuinely feel bad for the scenery-chewing Julia and hiss in disgust at Van Damme’s muscle-bound moron beating up an aging actor who was literally dying from cancer while making this film.

Nitpicking this movie would require a dedicated research team from a prestigious university, and Mutant Reviewers doesn’t have that sort of money. What we can deliver to you is BISON’S TOP SECRET MASTER PLAN, mostly unaltered from how it appears in the movie, as a taste for the psychedelic logic within:

1. Start a land war in a small, insignificant Asian nation. Because that worked so well for Vietnam.

2. Once the freedom-loving nations of the world ally against you and start throwing Van Dammes your way, it’s time to prematurely declare victory.

3. Build your evil fortress in some not-too-conspicuous ruins — probably on some tourist tour path where swarms of schoolchildren tromp through daily — and deck it out with loads of TV monitors, skull/spine chandeliers, hovering throne-discs, and kidnapped scientists.

4. Hit yourself in the forehead once you realize that ruins rarely are built near modern electrical routes. Light a bunch of candles and order up some generators.

5. Plan on building a great city called Bisonopolis once the war is won, and make it in the shape of a skull. Assume that many popular food franchises will want to set up shop in the food court.

6. Start printing your own purple money with your face on it and pay military associates with it. When they balk, claim that it will soon be worth five times the rate of the British pound, because you’re planning on kidnapping their queen. It’s vital you say this with a straight face.

7. Not only tamper in God’s domain by genetically mutating people into super-soldiers, but do so on kidnapped good guys who will of course NEVER have a reason to turn their newfound strength against you.

8. Expect to fight the enemy commander mano-a-mano on the battlefield. Just like Eisenhower and Hitler’s great dukefest of ’45. Then somehow harness electricity and powers of flight by being electrocuted.

Didja notice?

  • The Universal logo transforming into the Street Fighter logo
  • Quick, I need a fake name for a fake country! Shadaloo, that will do!
  • I want a hover disc! I want a hover disc!
  • Over the top villains love to have their lairs decked out with tons of TV monitors and prison pits in the middle of the main room. The red leather outfit is kind of over the top, though.
  • $20 billion! That’s a lot of money! But wouldn’t it make sense for our side to pay, to save from the war costs?
  • Van Damme lurves to show off his muscles
  • Tennis ball guns? Okie.
  • “DNA Mutagens” baggie
  • I’d be a bit grumpy if I was captured by mushy mouth Van Damme, too
  • Wilhelm scream!
  • News journalists are allowed to be very emotional and biased toward one side of a war
  • “Why do they still call me a warlord?” Um… because you’re lording over people by waging war?
  • If you’re trying to convince the world you’re not evil, then creating “Bisonopolis” to look like a giant skull is probably not the way to go.
  • You can be shot on sight for breaking curfew. By the GOOD GUYS.
  • In the game, Honda is Japanese… here, he’s a beefy Hawaiian
  • News reporters often moonlight as ninja
  • If you’re trying to be a stealthy ninja, toting around a beeping tracker is counterproductive
  • Illegal military hardware bazaars are quite the fun and well-lit places to be
  • Hey! Stop bagging on Detroit!
  • Do people still use dynamite these days?
  • Uh, WHY is an air assault impossible? Explain!
  • A good torture dungeon always has a skeleton hanging from chains. It’s a must.
  • Sumo people are great at withstanding torture
  • The entire AN army is, like, 200 soldiers max.
  • Oh geez. A Van Damme inspirational patriotic speech.
  • That’s a very enthusiastic and unanimous mutiny
  • Stealth boat!
  • It’s funny how many of the game’s trademarked outfits are given to the characters by Bison
  • Ugh, Bison trying to seduce Chun Li
  • The skull fireplace was a nice touch
  • Is piloting a stealth boat down an enemy-infested river on a mission of extreme importance REALLY the best time to slip in a video of you and your friend at a picnic and reminisce?
  • Stealth mode requires you to lower a face visor… for… some reason
  • Stealth mode doesn’t work so well when enemy cameras can see the wake of your boat
  • Bison’s control panel is identical to the controls of the Street Fighter II arcade game? Seriously?
  • Van Damme wants a Cherokee headband for good luck too. Too bad it’s NOT YOUR CULTURE, idiot.
  • Evil computers make buzzing noises when no money is in the account.
  • “Total Security Alert”? Versus, partial security alert?
  • The Godzilla parody
  • Where did he get boxing gloves? In the evil fortress?
  • He’s got hoverboots and I’m okay with that.
  • The common reaction to a massive explosion is to do a martial arts pose for a group picture

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