Mortal Challenge (1996) - * *
AKA: Death Game
Directed by: Randy Cheveldave
Starring: Timothy Bottoms, David McCallum, Vince Murdocco, Nicolas Hill, Jody Thompson, and Evan Lurie
In the far-off future of 2024, Los Angeles is split in two: New L.A., where most of the people fight for survival after a big earthquake, and an island where the rich can afford to live. Naturally, a crazed madman named Malius (McCallum) is the mastermind of a series of underground Punchfighting matches that audiences just kind of sit around and watch. One of the fighters is named Alex (Murdocco).
When a detective named Jack (Bottoms) starts investigating a girl's disappearance, he and some other people, including Hawk (Hill) and Tori (Thompson) are spirited away to a large compound where a cyborg of some sort named Grepp (Lurie) is stalking them. After a lot of running around in the dark, and some fighting, the final confrontation ensues. But who will win the DEATH GAME and be victorious in the MORTAL CHALLENGE?
As Bruce Springsteen once famously sang, "This gun's for hire, even if we're just Punchfighting in the dark". I'm reasonably sure those were the lyrics. If they weren't, they certainly should've been, especially if the subject at hand was Mortal Challenge. Now, 'Challenge doesn't have as much Punchfighting as you might think there would be. Yes, there is some, but it's more of an American Cyborg: Steel Warrior-type affair where people are on the run trying to avoid a killer robot on the loose. It's less The Terminator (1984), and more Shocking Dark (1989). In this case, very dark. Lighting-wise, of course.
Around about this time in the 90's, Roger Corman and his companies became interested in Punchfighting, or fighting of some sort, so they made the same movie over and over again: Future Kick (1991), Bloodfist 2050 (2005), Blackbelt (1992), New Crime City (1994), Alien Terminator (1995), etc., etc. Most of them are set in the future and have minimal lighting so you can't see much. They usually have only a few cheap sets and the audio isn't so hot. We know we're in the world of very low budget films, but that doesn't mean the script, as such, has to suffer and the audience has to lose brain cells. Unfortunately, that's pretty much the situation with Mortal Challenge.
The solid cast is utterly wasted in this tripe. Vince Murdocco is under-used, and it's amazing they were able to get David McCallum to be in this. Evan Lurie seems in his element as Grepp, as he's played robotic or somehow cybernetic characters before, such as in T-Force (1994) or Hologram Man (1995). Timothy Bottoms, who looks so much like former president George W. Bush that he has portrayed him more than once in other movies and shows, is the main hero here. He's no Don The Dragon, if we're going to compare this to the very similar Future Kick, but we do get to see some instances of George Bush-Fu. So, that was appreciated. Interestingly, crooner Michael Buble is credited with a bit part. Could that possibly be true?
Now, much like the movie itself, that leaves the best bit for last: the title song by Mike Dolgy and Curtis Lee. The fact that the filmmakers left this song for the end credits is a shame and a waste. It should have played during the movie itself. The lyrics and vocals are wonderfully ridiculous, and the music is very reminiscent of the main theme to Mortal Kombat (1995) - as if the name "Mortal Challenge" wasn't an obvious enough reminder that they were trying to cash in on the popularity of that classic game. (One of the other characters is named Freeze - not Subzero, mind you - and the "Centurion" named Rogius is MK on a budget).
Despite the solid cast and maybe a few decent moments, Mortal Challenge is so dumb and stupid, it seemingly doesn't even try to engage the viewer. It's hard to imagine anyone with the intelligence level over that of a turnip actually ENJOYING Mortal Challenge. Were the filmmakers trying to insult the intelligence of the audience? Probably not, but it feels that way. So we cannot in good conscience recommend Mortal Challenge. Just listen to the song on YouTube.
Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty