If there's one video game franchise that most definitely does not cry out for the celluloid treatment, it's Capcom's Street Fighter, a series defined by cartoon action figures engaging in two-dimensional, one-on-one brawling. The games have no real story, no real levels, and no character depth, a fact that nonetheless didn't prevent the production of 1994's dreadful Jean-Claude Van Damme-headlined Street Fighter. Fifteen years later, and ostensibly timed to coincide with the release of the series' latest, surefire XBOX and PS3 hit Street Fighter 4, comes Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, a tie-in that focuses squarely on the titular female Asian martial artist with the hair buns and assortment of high-flying kicks. Unsurprising for an adaptation of narrative-free source material, what little plot exists here is of the embarrassingly shallow sort, though since the film is only truly targeted at fans of the interactive games, it's the action and inclusion of recognizable personalities that will likely matter most. In those areas as well, unfortunately, this genre throwaway proves equally inept.
A concert pianist living in Honk Kong, Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk) has her life upended when her father is abducted by a nefarious mastermind known as Bison (Neal McDonough), who, aside from an evil glare, bears no resemblance to his game namesake. Bison wants to use Chun-Li's father for his business contacts, which will help him take control of the Thai waterfront slums that he wants to develop into luxury real estate. His plans, however, are threatened once Chun-Li receives an ancient Chinese scroll that leads her to a shadowy crime-fighting organization known as The Order of the Web run by Gen (Robin Shou, veteran of that other 2-D fighting game movie, Mortal Kombat). Under Gen's tutelage, she learns to harness her anger, hone her butt-kicking skills, and master the art of throwing balls of concentrated mystical energy. Her gravity-defying, CG-aided supernatural abilities turn out to be the only truly cartoonish element held over from the game, as the film otherwise does away with the series' outlandish costumes and signature exclamations, meaning anyone holding out hope for a "Shoryuken!" will be sorely disappointed.
Having previously helmed the martial arts-heavy Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 the Grave, as well as brought another iconic game series to the screen with Doom, Andrzej Bartkowiak would seem a logical choice to handle this newest Street Fighter. And true to form, his direction here is as graceless as it was in his prior efforts. Virtually every conversational scene is maxed out with trailer-ready one-liners, which obliterates any hope for emotional engagement with these walking, talking avatars. Worse, though, is that his fighting sequences are dreadfully lethargic, less because they're chopped up by paroxysmal edits (as is usually the case in modern action cinema) than because their choreography is of a dull, unimaginative sort. Chun-Li flashes her signature moves (such as a handstand helicopter kick), but there's no visceral physicality to her or anyone else's skirmishes, whether they involve hordes of faceless gun-toting soldiers – firearms being a constant, puzzling facet of a film based around hand-to-hand combat – or Michael Clarke Duncan's laughing, bellowing bruiser Balrog.
Nonetheless, even taking into consideration the random appearance of Black Eyed Peas member Taboo as masked ninja warrior Vega, there's no facet of Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li more outrageously awful than a subplot involving an American Interpol agent named Charlie Nash (Chris Klein) who, paired with sexy Honk Kong detective Maya (Moon Bloodgood), is determined to bring down Bison's criminal empire. With long hair, a five o'-clock shadow, and a cocky macho smile permanently affixed to his face, Klein not only seems to be in an altogether different film, but openly auditioning to play the part of Nicolas Cage in an MTV Movie Awards skit. Klein can't utter a word or flash a badass smirk without being laugh-out-loud funny, to the point that his amusingly appalling performance winds up making the rest of the story – which also features young Bison murdering his pregnant wife in a magical cave so he can transfer all his goodness into the unborn baby and, thus, become a villain without conscience (!) – look reasonably competent in comparison. With any luck, a YouTube compilation of his ridiculousness will be in our future soon.