By Bob Strauss
October 06, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

There was a brief moment a couple of years ago when it seemed as if Mortal Kombat might become a pop-culture pariah — the videogame children were forbidden to experience. How times have changed. There have since been two Kombat arcade and home-videogame sequels, a hit movie, a couple of paperbacks, a line of action toys, and now — get thee behind me, Satan — Mortal Kombat: The Live Tour, which opened Sept. 14 at Radio City Music Hall in New York, the first stop on a 200-city half-year-long worldwide blitz.

Like any event whose objective is to unload as many licensed goods as possible, Mortal Kombat doesn’t so much divert the paying public as bludgeon it into submission. Performed for an audience of occasionally restless kids and aghast adults who had paid up to $25 per ticket, the 90-minute show I attended was a spectacle of ineptly choreographed fights and incomprehensible plot developments (enacted by a troupe of 18 muscle-bound gymnasts and martial artists lip-synching prerecorded dialogue), all set to a techno-industrial beat loud enough to induce sterility. As a nod to Mortal Kombat‘s multimedia origins, two giant screens flanked the stage, magnifying the action. In the middle of it all was an interminable sequence in which evil overlord Shao Kahn presided over a kung-fu voguing competition like a demonic Dick Clark.

The one remotely engaging scene was spoiled by its mercenary instincts. As green lasers danced around the stage, good guy Liu Kang held up a magic amulet and, accompanied by a Philip Glass-style leitmotiv, asked kids in attendance to raise their own amulets and help defeat the forces of evil. And by the way, $7 amulets are on sale at the concession stands. You can’t get away with this kind of stuff on Saturday-morning TV — oh, the freedom of live theater!

Not that most kids seemed to mind. During intermission, many could be found in the lobby, karate-chopping and drop-kicking each other as parents smiled faintly and shrugged. To anyone over 20, Mortal Kombat: The Live Tour is sure to invoke the coming millennium. I’m betting it’ll be a huge hit. D-