Directed by Sam Firstenberg
Expectations: I can’t imagine I’ll do anything but enjoy this.
American Ninja is not a great movie, but damn if it isn’t fantastic! Another shining example of the line between trash and art, American Ninja manages to contain some of the laziest writing I’ve seen in a while (OK, not that long) AND some of the best action sequences in recent memory. Modern directors would do themselves a favor to sit down with American Ninja and examine its finer points.
Joe is an amnesiac Army solider who happens to possess some serious ninjutsu skill. He doesn’t remember how he acquired these talents, but he sure knows how to put them into action. In the opening scene Filipino guerrillas disrupt a convoy and when Joe decides to play hero, a shitload of ninjas jump out of the trees and slaughter the rest of the Army crew before giving chase. This sets into motion a cat and mouse game where an evil plantation owner and his personal ninja army set out to kill the American interloper, the… wait for it… American Ninja!
Yes, this story could only be taken seriously in the 1980s, but it’s incidental to the action. Anything that allows ninja night raids on prison rooftops and scenes featuring hundreds of ninjas training in multi-colored jumpsuits on jungle gyms is OK in my book. The action is the star and the film is at its best when the dialogue drops out and the sharp action begins. The prison break scene is an especially juicy highlight, with excellent editing punctuating the clever moves of the ninja and his prey. Michael Dudikoff holds down the movie pretty well with his passable second-tier martial arts and Steve James is fucking awesome as his Army buddy. I look forward to seeing James in more movies and I thoroughly hope he figures prominently in the sequels because I just couldn’t get enough of the guy.
American Ninja also reminds me what action films of today are missing. Simple slow-motion sequences of trucks blasting through vendor carts are relics of the past, something the younger generation may never fully experience. It also brought my mind to other moments in film history, unaided by the computer, that would never be done similarly in modern times. Scenes such as the boat sequence of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when the giant propeller rips apart the boat Indy fights on. Can you imagine the bullshit visuals that would typify a scene like that today? Someone has to stand up to motherfucking Skynet and make a goddamned action movie again! Are you with me?
Thanks American Ninja, I needed that.