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Warriors known for their stealth, being draped head-to-toe in black against the bright green backdrop of a Filipino jungle certainly doesn’t help.
American Ninja is another tone-deaf, extremely dunderheaded and hilarious Cannon Group production featuring golden boy dud Michael Dudikoff (and the always exemplary Steve James as Jackson).
After a tedious trumpet-addled opener of a convoy driving across dirt roads, US soldiers are ambushed first by gun-wielding toughs then by ninjas (!), giving the foley artists a real workout with all the flying fists. The US colonel’s daughter is taken hostage and disappears into the brush.
Luckily, one of the grunts is Joe, a squinting laconic reform school vet and ex-criminal adopted and raised by a Japanese martial arts experts father figure and schooled in beat-downs. He can deflect arrows with shovels, and as the black diamond-faced evil ninja says: “he possess great skills!”
He’s a one man gang who rescues the girl. She finally thanks him but only after subjecting Joe to a stream of cliches such as “I can take care of myself!”
Instead of a hero’s welcome back at the army base, the term is used as an epithet with Joe’s heroism and hotheadedness called out by his superiors (speaking of cliches, re: their inability to fight off the ambush…”we tried our best…”Your best wasn’t good enough!”)
Soon, this soldier (whose memory has been erased, yet can do awesome martial arts learned from birth and who has no birth record yet has somehow enlisted in the army) is sent down the river and implicated in a weapons smuggling ring. He has to clear his name, with the help of his former enemy, now ally: the kindly and very chiseled Jackson.
The top-dog of the weapons smuggling ring speaks French, the language of villainy (probably in the US pop culture-adoring minds of the Cannon guys), and has a ninja army training ground, which looks like an Al Qaeda camp.
There’s some quite good and some quite hilarious martial arts, including Joe showcasing his defensive skills wearing a bucket on his head. There’s also a ludicrous motorcycle jump featuring a stunt man whose hair color not to mention style, differs greatly from Dudikoff’s.
Good, dumb fun.
***1/2 (out of 5)