Wednesday, January 6, 2010

American Ninja (1985) - by Mark Oswald

Okay, so this is a movie about ninjas. Real Ninjas. Like the ones you grow up hearing about in books and movies, etc. but you know, realer. So automatically this movie has that in its corner. Plus, the ninjas in this film,(in addition to doing battle with martial arts, throwing stars, swords, boa staffs, and arrows), also come well-equipped with machine guns, flame throwers, and even a wrist laser at one point; Just as they speak of in the stories of old… This is some serious shit right here. On the other side of the ninja star, however, the filmmakers aren’t going to be held back in their pursuit of cinematic excellence, so yes this is a movie about ninjas, but definitely not those ancient, uber-traditional, super conformist ninjas. This movie is all about updating for the 20th century. So we also have an American Ninja in this thing, and as you may have guessed (probably not from the title or anything), the story revolves around him. Who is our titular American Ninja you ask? Well the character goes by the name of Private Joe Armstrong, the actor goes by Michael Dudikoff and kind of looks like a low-rent Warren Beatty.

I had always seen these copies of American Ninja and it’s four sequels in video stores when I was a kid cruising for that new action fix, but never went ahead with the rental. It was only within the last couple years that I had been hearing more and more about the first in the series from other like-minded souls across the Internet. So I took the plunge, and the plunge was deep, and vast, and long, and…really about what you would expect from a movie called American Ninja. And what exactly would you expect? Well I don’t know what you did, but I expected cheesy awesomeness, and my friends, I got it. You see, this film comes from the production company known as Golan-Globus, a veritable Action treasure chest in the 80’s. They turned out some notable mayhem in the form of Death Wish II, Breakin’, Runaway Train, Missing in Action 3, Cyborg, Delta Force 2, and my personal favorite, Masters of the Universe; but that’s another review altogether.

Now with this being my only performance to base Dudikoff’s action chops on, I’ll start at the beginning. We are introduced to Joe almost immediately, coolly leaning on an army truck while flipping around a switchblade knife. He’s wearing military fatigues, so we know that he must be a soldier at the military base where half of the film takes place. There are other soldiers hanging out nearby, playing hacky sack. When their ball gets launched away from them, it of course lands right in front of Pvt. Armstrong. So what does Joe do? Kick it back to them? Pick it up and walk it over? Nope. He just keeps standing there flipping his knife. What an asshole! Nah, Joe just doesn’t like to get involved with things unless he has to. This involves but is not limited to picking up hacky sacks and fighting his fellow soldiers for bragging rights. All Joe really seems to enjoy doing is hanging around, not saying a word until he is needed…to kick ass. Fortunately for us, he does in fact kick a lot of ass in this movie. He’s one of the “shit magnets” you hear about so often in Badass Cinema. Another thing about Joe that you should know is that he’s lost his memory. He doesn’t remember why he knows how to kick ass, he just does it when called upon.

We find out later that as a child he was trained by a middle-aged Asian man in the ways of the ninja. Throughout the movie he has quick flash backs to his training sessions where he mastered the art of Ninjitsu while wearing a shirt, fashioned into a diaper as opposed to actual pants. Must help with the kicks. Seriously, I’ve never even seen Van Damme pull any of that shit. In the fight scenes, Dudikoff seems to handle himself reasonably well for the most part and he actually does do a lot of ninja-esque sneaking around, so they were really keeping the theme alive in this one.

Aside from the main man attraction, what else do we have going on around here? I have to mention the presence of Perennial Action Sidekick, Steve James. This guy is always a lot of fun to watch. He is 6’ 1”, jacked, and consistently over the top. He’s been a part of classics like The Warriors, Vigilante, The Delta Force, Avenging Force (also Starring Dudikoff), American Ninja 2: The Confrontation, Johnny Be Good, Hero and the Terror, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt, McBain, and another of my personal favorites, Weekend at Bernies 2.

What about the villain, you ask? Well I gotta say I really don’t remember too much about him other than that he was an asshole and, according to my notes, talked as if he had a mouth full of Sour Patch Kids.

Well that about does it for American Ninja. This movie was a lot of cheesy action fun; Perfect for a night in with the guys, or a particularly cool girlfriend.

Body Count - 128 (roughly)

Number of times Dudikoff “jumps out of the way” - 9

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