(Second Viewing, On Cable TV, December 2017) I’m not sure if I first saw Mortal Kombat in theatres or on VHS (probably theatres, and probably because there was a girl involved), but after twenty years the biggest memory I kept from the film was its soundtrack. (I kept the CD in heavy rotation in my late nineties playlist.) Watching it again shows a film that has visibly aged, but perhaps not as much as I had feared. The early-CGI special effects are clearly dated, showing a lack of sophistication and restraint that calls attention to the effects rather than their usefulness. The dialogue is not particularly good, and the plot is a serviceable way to get characters moving from one action set-piece to another. On the other hand, the actors are likable: Robin Shou is terrific once the action starts, Christophe Lambert gets a great excuse to play a cackling version of his own persona, and one of the few things I did remember from the movie was Bridgette Wilson’s film-long progression from ponytail-headed tough professional to curly-haired blonde kitten by the time the film ends. Visually, director Paul W.S. Anderson made a splash with this Hollywood debut and much of the film still holds up decently well even after the wave of arthouse martial arts movies of 1999–2009 from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to Hero. While I acknowledge that a heavy dose of nostalgia in a big factor in re-watching Mortal Kombat, I wasn’t as disappointed as I thought I’d be by the result.
(Second Viewing, On Cable TV, September 2015) I’m pretty sure I saw Beverly Hills Ninja in theaters, three months before I started writing these online movie reviews in early-1997. There’s no wonder, though, as to why I’ve kept almost no memories of the film: It’s terrible. Starring Chris Farley as a dim-witted buffoon trained as a ninja, Beverly Hills Ninja is one pratfall after another, played broadly enough to appeal to all the kids in the audience. Farley is more annoying than endearing, and the film never loses a moment going for subtlety when endless hammering of the same joke is possible. Worse yet: Many of the physical gags can be seen coming long in advance, adding to the misery of the entire film. The bright spots are few and frustrating: Robin Shou is a far more enjoyable protagonist as a competent ninja fixing the title character’s mistakes, while Chris Rock shows up and doesn’t have much to do as the sidekick. There are echoes of Beverly Hills Ninja in Kung-Fu Panda, but the comparison is almost cruel to the latter animated feature. There are films best left in the sands of time, and Beverly Hills Ninja is an unremarkable example of those.