Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Where have you gone Menahem and Yorum? You two young men that formed the infamous Cannon Group who were almost as important as my parents in shaping the way I view the world. Back in the 80’s there were some who didn’t understand you, some who observed you destroyed franchises with your terminable ‘Death Wish’ sequels and ‘Superman IV’. Despite my admiration for you gentlemen we must sadly concede that there is a special place reserved for you in hell for ‘Superman IV’. It’s out of my hands. Yes you cats almost singlehandedly destroyed Sylvester Stallone’s movie career while making him filthier rich, yes you taught us that all Ay-Rabs are bad people, and yes you guys attempted to sabotage the Hip-Hop industry by unleashing the ‘movie’ Rappin’ upon the earth. The true Seventh Chamber of Hell that one. But dammit every once in a while you blind squirrels would find a nut. ‘American Ninja’ wouldn’t be one of those nuts as I was thinking more along the lines of ‘Runaway Train’ or ’52 Pick-Up’, but we are here today to talk about the madcap comedy that is ‘American Ninja’, a film that is probably second only to ‘Blazing Saddles’ as the funniest movie ever.

Legendary funnyman Michael Dudikoff is Joe. Just Joe. We know Joe’s a badass early on as the first class private takes on a group of heavily armed Filipino truck hijackers and kicks their asses. Often they would try to shoot at him but he would cleverly dive into the dirt rendering himself invulnerable to their bullets. Then out of nowhere the Ninjas appear. Joe would’ve kicked their asses too but he had to save the Colonel’s bratty daughter Patricia (Judie Aronson) who despite the death and destruction of those around her still found the time to complain incessantly about her hair and shoes. However she will come around to the ways of love soon enough.

With the daughter safely returned, you would think the Colonel (Guich Koock) would be grateful but no, he just wants to Court Marshal Joe. Worst is that he is getting blamed for the deaths for his fellow soldiers because, well… because it was pretty much his

fault. Now none of his soldier buddies like him much, especially Corporal Curtis Jackson (Steve James). I hate to get sidetracked here but Cpl. Jackson mentioned fighting in Vietnam. Vietnam ended around 1972. The time of this movie is 1985. Cpl. Jackson looks to be in his mid-thirties and we can assume he has been in the army at least thirteen years. So after fighting in a war and being in this mans army for at least thirteen years he has ascended to the lofty rank of Corporal. Outstanding. Anyway Cpl. James foolishly challenges Joe and gets his ass kicked for his trouble. Joe doesn’t know how or why he can kick ass so completely considering he has amnesia, but there you go. Now in reality kicking Curtis’ ass shouldn’t mean anything other than Curtis just got his ass kicked, but in this universe getting your ass kicked means all is forgiven and now Joe and Curtis are sweaty shirtless buddies.

The man responsible for these truck hijackings is a Frenchman named Victor Ortega (the late Don Stewart). Yes, we recognize that Ortega is a Hispanic name and considering the movie takes place in the Philippines this does make some sense, but I’m thinking Don Stewart could only do a French accent so what the hell. Roll with it. Ortega’s right hand man is a Japanese cat known only as Black Star Ninja (Tadashi Yamashita) who observed the skills of the man they now call American Ninja. This sits well with neither Ortega nor Black Star Ninja who have determined that he must die. They don’t really tell us why he must die but I’m just rolling with that too. That decision just may be the worst move in the history of the planet earth because despite the fact that Black Star Ninja has a school full of ninja’s, our amnesiac private pretty much kills them all. And guess what? Joe hasn’t even finished his Ninja training yet. There’s an old mute Japanese gardener (John Fujioka) who knows Joe quite well since he trained Joe in the way of the arts back in the day, and now he’s ready to restore his memory and show him the rest of the way. I’m thinking the Ninja population is about to get a little thinner.

Man this is one funny, funny movie. You could literally write a thesis on the unparalleled comedic aspects of American Ninja and the greatness of director Sam Firstenberg who also crafted classics such as Breakin’ 2 and Ninja III: Domination. Mr. Firstenberg has made a TON of martial arts movies while showing absolutely no aptitude or ability to pull it off. Watch Black Star Ninja kill one of his students during a ‘demonstration’. I initially thought killing one’s students to be a suspect training technique until the French dude named Ortega informed me that the student was ‘honored’ to be killed by Black Star Ninja. Really? He didn’t look all that honored to me and I didn’t see any of his classmates yelling ‘Take Me Instead Black Star Ninja!’ Watch the evil sergeant drive off the road at ten miles per hour and then scream like a bitch. I was curious as to what he was screaming about since he could’ve saved his life by simply tapping the brakes but then he wouldn’t have run into that nuclear bomb / tree that blew up his jeep on contact. Observe the worlds oldest corporal’s shirt slowly deteriorate and his biceps accumulate massive amounts of glisten. Sure nobody else is shirtless and glistening but then they are not the late great Steve James. Observe Black Star Ninja shoot fireballs and lasers from his hands years before anyone even thought of Mortal Kombat. I halfway expected him to yell ‘FATALITY’ or ‘ANIMALITY’. I dug how Black Star Ninja (the root of most of the comedy) punched Patricia real hard to the spine and then gave her a shot of something to keep her unconscious as if a Ninja punching a 100 pound woman super hard in the spine wasn’t enough.

The hits continue throughout the film with an inspired ninja vs. helicopter battle with the French dude completely unable to shoot the ninja from six inches away, Michael Dudikoff uttering a total of thirty words during the entire movie, a soundtrack that seems lifted off of a bad ‘A-Team’ episode, cinematography pulled from one of the better ‘Charlie’s Angels’ episodes and finally exploding the myth that Ninja’s are tough. Unless it’s a white guy with amnesia. I think I saw this movie when it came out twenty five years ago but I sure don’t remember it, and damn if there aren’t FIVE of these floating around. I don’t think my psyche can take that much comedy. But as far as this one is concerned you will be doing yourself a disservice by passing on this classic. Thank you Manahem and Yorem. Thank you.

All jokes aside I didn’t know until I saw this movie a few days ago that Steve James, Kung Fu Joe himself, died sixteen years ago at the tender age of 41 from pancreatic cancer. Considering Sidney Poitier delivered his eulogy he must’ve an all right guy. Next to Carl Weathers nobody could glisten quite like Steve James. Rest in Peace Kung Fu Joe.

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