Wednesday, November 18, 2009

American Ninja (The Series)

 American Ninja (1985)  
* * *

Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Tadashi Yamashita, Judie Aronson, Guich Koock, John Fujioka
Directed By Sam Firstenberg

American Ninja finds Michael Dudikoff as a soldier/ninja who faces off against a French arms dealer and his army of ninjas in this silly though very fun effort that benefits from lots of action and the on screen chemistry of Michael Dudikoff and Steve James. The plot is of course stupid and simplistic, but it really doesn’t matter as Firstenberg sets the pace well and delivers the action with a sure hand. There is of course a lot of camp appeal to American Ninja (what movie from Golan and Globus doesn’t have camp appeal?) but it really goes back to whether or not you would rent a movie called American Ninja, and given the fact American Ninja has a cult following indicates that American Ninja is one of the staples of grindhouse action. Plus the action is plentiful and well staged, which really is all that counts to ninja fans.

American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987) * * *
Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Mike Stone, Gary Conway, Larry Poindexter
Directed By Sam Firstenberg

In many ways American Ninja 2 is even more fun than the original, especially due to the increased screen time of Steve James and a ridiculously goofy mad scientist plot that for the most part adds to the fun factor in a film about patriot ninjas battling bad ninjas in the Caribbean, as the bad guys are kidnapping marines to use their DNA to clone an army of super ninjas who will be indestructible. Firstenberg deserves the most credit for keeping the action plentiful, and for having a sense of humor. The action sequences are decent, and the body count is bigger this time around, but it’s really the humor that makes this entry as equally enjoyable as American Ninja 1. Indeed it’s a far better than average product from Cannon pictures, and Dudikoff while still the strong silent type plays off well against the excellent Steve James. American Ninja 2 became a midnight staple for late, late movie viewers and one can see why.

American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989)*

Cast: David Bradley, Steve James, Marjoe Gortner

Directed By Cedric Sundstrom

The guilty pleasure fun of the first two entries is nowhere to be found in this utterly dreadful sequel, which finds David Bradley replacing Michael Dudikoff (Who wisely stepped out) as a new “American Ninja”. Steve James is back again reprising the same character but it’s obvious he’s not that enthused to be there, Marjoe Gortner seems to be having fun with his role but this cheapjack sequel is utterly hopeless. The plot finds bad guy Marjoe Gortner trying to find the toughest man in the world, to try his chemical weapon on, after holding a karate tournament, David Bradley is his choice. Of course Gortner has a ninja army that Steve James and David Bradley dispatch in the most boring of ways. From the very start we know that American Ninja 3 is going to be awful, as we witness an extremely stupid opening robbery complete with the most dreadful acting this side of a high school play, but this doesn’t prepare the viewer for the drop in quality as the film progresses. Bradley is about as good as what you would expect, but it’s really not fair to blame Bradley for his performance, as the production values, fight sequences and direction are so inept he had no chance at selling this lame material. The worst thing of all is that the movie is a retread of American Ninja 2, only without the sense of humor, and worst of all, none of the B. movie energy that made that one so fun.

American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1991) * *

Cast: Michael Dudikoff, David Bradley, James Booth, Dwayne Alexandre, Robin Stille

Directed By Cedric Sundstrom

The best thing that can be said for American Ninja 4 is that at least it’s an improvement over its predecessor, which isn’t saying much. However faint praise aside, American Ninja 4 is an uninspired and very dull sequel that the star of the movie most likely wanted no part of. American Ninja 4 concerns Michael Dudikoff teaming up with African rebels to save a Navy Seals unit that was captured by an Arab and his ninja army after Dudikoff’s friend David Bradley (the other American Ninja) was sent in and was captured, so now Dudikoff takes up the mission to save his friend. American Ninja 4 starts out on a promising note, indeed the delta force action sequence is fairly decent, but once Bradley enters the scene the film basically spins its wheels in clichés. Interestingly enough Dudikoff doesn’t show up until 40 minutes or so in, and while Dudikoff’s fight with the Mad Max-like rebels, as well as the ridiculous climax has its moments, the movie takes too long with Dudikoff sneaking in dark area, fighting ninjas that don’t put up a fight and then (finally) saving his friends. American Ninja 4 also lacks a sense of humor and with Steve James nowhere to be found, American Ninja 4 just stumbles from pointless plot angle to pointless plot angle with the absolute minimum of energy or enthusiasm from anyone involved. One can tell nobody in this film enjoyed making it, especially Michael Dudikoff and James Booth who can barely keep their contempt for the project contained, and it’s this feeling of obligation and desperation that consigns American Ninja 4 to the trashcan. Still fans of Ninja flicks may find something worthwhile here. David Bradley returns in the even worse American Ninja 5. With Pat Morita, James Lew and Lee Reyes.

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