Ciné Files: So Bad It’s Good? So Bad, It’s Street Fighter Sublime

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There’s a certain kind of movie that may well be the best social lubricant known to modern society (outside of a tall, stiff drink); the so-bad-it’s-good kind. My fellow editor, Rachael Maddux, has made the case that Troll 2 stands as the tallest pillar of this underappreciated (sub)genre. And Troll 2 is surely a worthy contender for that crown; so is Starship Troopers, Total Recall, Reefer Madness, and a whole host of others. But for my money, there’s one flick that stands head and shoulders above these: The 1994 Street Fighter movie.

As the über-nerdy webcomic xkcd handily points out, so-bad-it’s-good can be a delicate balancing act. Stray too far into “bad” territory, and you wind up with a just-plain-bad movie, as it goes for the majority of films adapted from video games. (Thank you, Uwe Boll.) But the Street Fighter movie hits that ultimate b-movie sweet spot—it’s laughably under-rehearsed and under-coreographed, every single line of dialogue could charitably be described as “stilted,” the special effects are reminiscent of a high-school theatre club production, and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s accent is gloriously, gloriously indecipherable.

It’s obvious that the U.S. was still riding a post-Gulf War high when Street Fighter was made; Van Damme stars as Colonel Guile, commander of an “Allied Nations” task force sent to take down the evil drug lord General Bison, who is holding the world hostage for $20 billion through a never-fully-explained doomsday device. Just why the American-badass Guile has a thick Belgian accent is never fully explained, but that would have required consideration of such things as “plot” and “character development.”

Street Fighter has little of either—a good chunk of the movie revolves around Guile and company infiltrating the inner circle of the arms dealer, Sagat, whose encampment is a delightful potpourri of every cultural stereotype the early-90s could dredge up. Which is to say, a swarm of swarthy, bearded Arab men hawking Soviet weapons. And the rest of the movie plays out like an unironic treatment of Team America: World Police.

So what, then saves this mess of a campy action flick? One thing, and one thing only: a herculean case of overacting from Oscar-winner Raul Julia. (It’s something of an insult-to-injury situation that this was Julia’s last role before he passed away from cancer.) Julia delivers some truly stellar one liners as Bison.

Is it a little bit weird that this was Julia’s swan song, when the man is the only Serious Actor in this movie? Yes, absolutely. But something tells me Julia would have wanted it this way. His performance singlehandedly turned one of the worst movies of all time into a cult-classic, by sheer dint of his overacting. So not only is he an Oscar-winner, but he’s a cult icon now too. For us, the Street Fighter movie is so bad, it’s amazing. But for Julia? It was just Tuesday.