There’s an understanding when we go into a movie like “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li” that the audience is willing to sacrifice certain standards of plot, dialogue and performance in exchange for a visceral experience of breathtaking fight scenes along with a reasonable degree of visual acuity.
You’ll get none of that here.
Not only is the acting consistently ludicrous — with some performances falling into the laugh-out-loud embarrassing category — and the script flimsy, but the hand-to-hand combat fails to generate any adrenaline whatsoever. To top it all, “Street Fighter” is just wretched to look at, comparable to a third-generation bootleg DVD projected onto the big screen. (Given that director Andrzej Bartkowiak was once the favored cinematographer of directors like Sidney Lumet, this last failing seems the most egregious.)
The startlingly bland Kristin Kreuk stars as Chun-Li, an accomplished concert pianist who spent her free time in childhood being mentored in the martial arts by her father Xiang (Edmund Chen). (And believe me, it kills me not to be able to recommend to teen girls that they see a movie about a young woman who can play Bach and break necks.)
When Chun-Li was a young girl, her father was kidnapped by the ruthless Bison (Neal McDonough) because of Xiang’s connections and their usefulness to the crime lord. When you’ve got a name like “Bison,” it’s probably inevitable that you embrace the dark side.
As an young adult, Chun-Li finds out about a shadowy organization called the Order of the Web, run by Gen (Robin Shou), a former acolyte of Bison, dedicated to bringing down Bison’s mob rule. Also on the trail of the bad guys is Interpol agent Nash (Chris Klein), who teams up with Bangkok vice cop Maya (Moon Bloodgood) for what is supposed to be romantic banter.
Cue lots of fighting, right? Well … not exactly. There’s Chun-Li’s obligatory training sequence with Xiang, in which he delivers stock bromides like “You must control your anger,” but the obvious use of stunt doubles and computer-generated imagery dilutes any excitement. What we get instead is lots of talking, delivered by actors who were either never very interesting or who have decided to quit trying.
Kreuk, from TV’s “Smallville,” has all the presence of the shampoo model she really is, allowing her to be outdone by some rotten acting of epic proportions. McDonough (whose recent big-screen work includes such legendary duds as “88 Minutes” and “I Know Who Killed Me”) lets his creepy blue-steel eyes do all the work; he’s the dude Meg Foster. (Remember her?) Michael Clarke Duncan, as Bison’s henchman, mugs and fake-laughs frantically when he’s not mangling the awful dialogue — lest we forget, this is a guy with an Oscar nomination.
But the worst that “Street Fighter” has to offer (apart from Josie Ho’s brief but terrible impersonation of a lesbian) is Chris Klein as the hard-bitten Nash. Klein tries hard to give this cop some tough-guy swagger and seen-it-all cynicism, but none of it plays realistically. I can’t remember the last time I watched an actor fail to walk into a room convincingly, but Klein does it. Look for a YouTube montage of his “Street Fighter” performance to pop up any day now.