Search the Cinema Head Cheese Archives!

August 1, 2018

A Binge Too Far #1: American Ninja

Welcome to A Binge too Far, the new column that was named after my favorite A Bridge too Far (1977), and which will be presenting you each time with film-by-film reviews of classic (and some not so classic) franchises or movie series which I had neglected seeing so far. Without further ado, let’s start with American Ninja.
American Ninja (1985)

Joe (action movie legend Michael Dudikoff, in a role that was originally intended for Chuck Norris) is a soldier of many pseudonyms and an obscure past, of which he cannot remember much as at some point he had lost his memories. However, what he remembers clearly is his martial arts skills that will help him get a lot of opponent ninja butt kicked.

During an armed hold-up and attempt kidnapping of Patricia Hickock (Judie Aronson) Joe alone manages to save the girl from the hands of evil guerillas and as much evil ninjas, which only serves to generate the awe and hatred of the master ninja (Tadashi Yamashita) who now seeks for revenge.

Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus now legendary Cannon Films, this is one of their most famous actioners, and although it wasn’t the one that kick-started the 1980s ninja craze, it was one of the pivotal films from that particular cinematic movement that crossed other markets as well.

Directed by renowned action film director Sam Fistenberg, this is as misogynist as were the 1980s, but you won’t be able to help it but feel charmed by the cheesy dialogues and the awesome ninja and shootout action (more than 110 people die onscreen).
American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)

Set in a Caribbean island, this is about the mysterious disappearance of several marines. Of course army ranger Joe Armstrong (returning Michael Dudikoff) and his sidekick Stg. Curtis Jackson (returning Steve James) join in on the action and it is not too long before they discover that the man behind the wrongdoings is The Lion (Gary Conway) who in the meanwhile has also kidnapped a scientist in order to create an army of super ninja soldiers!

Directed again by Sam Fistenberg, this sequel may be still high on nicely-choreographed action (an extended scene at the beach is spectacular), but a lot of it is played for laughs, in slapstick manner, so much that I couldn’t help it but think of it as a missed opportunity.

However, the soundtrack is rocking the house and it contains a variety of fully-blown hits, including Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Move to the City’.

Produced again by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus for their own Cannon Films, this had to be cut in order to receive its R rating.
American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989)

Terrorist extraordinaire The Cobra (Marjoe Gortner) has infected karate champion Sean Davidson (introducing David Bradley in the role of the American Ninja, as per the titles) with a virus in order to fulfill his evil deeps. But fear not, the good ninja will join forces with the franchise’s familiar face of Curtis Jackson (returning Steve James) and together they will fight against the terrorist’s many hordes of evil ninjas.

This third installment, directed by Cedric Sundstrom [The Revenger (1990)] is all about Jackson’s one-liners (most of them really funny), but fear not as it is not without its plenty action set-pieces. Actually by this point it had become clear that the series were all about Americans kicking ninja buttocks. Still, the most impressive aspect of the present film is its many fabulous locations.

It was produced by legendary exploitation film mogul Harry Alan Towers (no introduction needed) and executive produced by Avi Lerner who in later years became a movie business legend too (pretty much most of the current blockbusters bear his signature).

American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1990)

An American-hating terrorist (there doesn’t seem to be any other kind in these films) by the name of Maksood [Ron Smerczak, later in Kin (2000)] is planning to send a nuclear bomb to New York via a suitcase. C.I.A. agent Sean Davidson (returning David Bradley) is sent on a mission to stop the evil man, but he can’t do it on his own, so Joe Armstrong (returning Michael Dudikoff, after  his absence from the previous film because he didn’t want to be stereotyped as an action movie star) is lured back to duty, and together they will kick some evil ninja butt with the aid of their unmatchable martial arts skills.

Executive produced again by Avi Lerner, this was produced by legendary hack Ovidio G. Assonitis, a movie mogul mostly remembered for backing genre classics such as Beyond the Door (1974). It was directed again by Cedric Sundstrom, who keeps on pointing the camera to where the spectacle is at, but doesn’t shy away from interesting details either. An all-around enjoyable experience if a tad too long at 99 minutes.

American Samurai (1992)

A Samurai master has two sons, biological one Kenjiro Sanga [Mark Dacascos from Only the Strong (1993)] and adopted American Andrew Collins (David Bradley). Under his training they both become skillful martial arts fighters, but whilst Andrew became a journalist, Kenjiro became a criminal at the service of the Yakuza.

The two brothers’ paths will cross when Andrew, along with the aid of photographer Janet Ward (gorgeous Valerie Trapp) visit Istanbul in order to report a story and they find that Kenjiro is running an illegal fighting in ring in which ‘kill or be killed’ matches are held.

Featuring hilarious dialogues (this is the sole screenplay penned by John Corcoran, who was otherwise an actor) and all-out action (that includes beheadings) this makes for an all-around enjoyable experience. Several versions exist, with different cuts, dubbing, aspect ratio, etc.

Although not a sequel or official part of the franchise, I opted for including it here because it is a Cannon Pictures presentation, that was directed by Sam Fistenberg and with David Bradley in the titular role. To be honest I wanted to include Lethal Ninja (1992) as well, which is more of a sequel, as it was produced by Avil Lerner and it was even released as American Ninja 5: The Nostradamus Syndrome in South Africa, but I failed to track down a copy by the time this article was posted.

American Ninja 5 (1993)

Martial arts master Tetsu [Pat Morita of The Karate Kid (1984) fame] sends his computer addict of a grandson Hiro [Lee Reyes from Raven (1992)] to study the art of self-defense with renowned American Ninja Joe Kastle (returning David Bradley). The kid doesn’t seem to care too much about fighting, and when such challenges arise he just stands there seeing Joe kicking evil ninja butt. But when Joe’s friend Lisa (gorgeous Anne Dupont) is kidnapped by criminal mastermind Viper (stuntman and bit-part actor James Lew) the action moves to Venezuela and Joe and Hiro will become a dynamic duo, ready to face whatever challenge comes their way.

Produced by Bob Bralver (who also directed), Caupolican Ovalles, and Ovidio G. Assonitis, this is clearly the franchise’s lowest point and it put the final nail in its coffin as well. At 102 minutes it is unnecessarily too long (it is, in fact, the longest film in the series) and the Karate Kid twist makes insanely boring (it is so much kid-friendly that it received a PG-13 rating). The dialogues are unintentionally hilarious as always, but not even this aspect can save the day. It was originally conceived by the Cannon Group as an unrelated movie that would be called American Dragons (which is why Bradley’s character is not called Sean) but it was later rechristened an American Ninja movie. Avoid at all costs.

Get books, comics, graphic novels and more at Use the code CHC at checkout for 15% off your purchase!

Follow Cinema Head Cheese:
Facebook: /cinemaheadcheese
Twitter: @CinHeadCheese
Instagram: abnormalpodcast 
Pinterest: /abnormalpodcast/cinema-head-cheese/
RSS Feed:

You can support Cinema Head Cheese and Abnormal Entertainment on our Support Us page.

No comments:

Post a Comment