After the fourth film, Michael Dudikoff once again retired his ninja suit… this time for good. Cannon films once again turned to the one and only David Bradley to step in for the fifth entry in the American Ninja series, although for some reason he doesn't reprise the role of the last character he played, Joe Armstrong, but is instead cast as a completely new hero, Joe Kastle. What does that mean? It means that this film has absolutely nothing to do with the first four movies in the series so don't expect any continuity references of back story.
Joe Kastle is tasked with heading down to South America to rescue Lisa (Anna Dupont), the pretty daughter of a scientist who, along with her wise father, is being held hostage by an evil terrorist who is forcing him to build him a nerve gas device. Thankfully, Joe's got a twelve year old sidekick named Hiro (Lee Reyes) who he is training in the ways of the ninja to help him out when the going gets tough. To make matters worse for Joe Kastle, the terrorists have an army of ninja warriors at their disposal, lead by the vicious ninja master known only as Viper (James Lew who starred opposite Don 'The Dragon' Wilson in Night Hunter). Oh, and some guy named Master Tetsu (Pat Morita from The Karate Kid) is running around too – he plays a different, nicer, ninja master (or so we're told, we never see him fight) who pops up from time to time to help Joe out on his mission.
Wow. Okay, it's bad enough that they replaced the Steve James sidekick role with a different Steve James wannabe in American Ninja 4 but here they don't even try and instead they team a ninja warrior up with a twelve year old boy possibly in hopes of cashing in on popular movies of the time like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Three Ninjas movies that were a big hit with little kids. The PG rating (all the other four in the series were definitely R rated material) further proves this, but sadly a watered down American Ninja film just doesn't work. What made the series so much fun the first four times out was the creative kill scenes and the non-stop gratuitous violence. When you take that out of the equation and then remove Steve James and Michael Dudikoff, what are you left with? A big steaming pile of kid friendly poo-poo, that's what. And it's not even interesting or well made kid friendly poo-poo (if it were, I wouldn't call it poo-poo in the first place).
The dialogue in this film is terrible, even by kid's action movie standards. Hiro is one of the most annoying characters since Bob in Lucio Fulci's House By The Cemetery and he sucks all the life out of the film single handedly. While the idea of teaming up Bradley and Morita is kind of a cool one, sadly they never fight together and all we're left with are a few Zen moments of sage advice. The only saving grace of the film is James Lew as Viper, the evil ninja master. He comes across as more of a sort of martial arts space vampire than an actual ninja but that's ok, at least he's got some enthusiasm and some charisma that he brings to the role, which is more than you can say for Bradley at this point. Viper does make for a fun villain and he does mess stuff up quite nicely for our heroes, but sadly it's just not even close to enough to save this stinker.
American Ninja 5 gets a 1.33.1 fullframe transfer which suits the movie just fine as it looks to be its original aspect ratio, not surprising considering this one went straight to video. The colors look okay and the black levels aren't half bad but Warner Brothers obviously didn't put any real effort into sprucing up the image at all as there is some fairly heavy grain and a little bit of softness to the picture. Overall though, everything is perfectly watchable, just don't go into this expecting a reference quality transfer cause that ain't what this release is all about. Edge enhancement and mpeg compression aren't a big problem, but the lack of serious detail in the image is a little off putting at times. Like the other films in the recent batch of Cannon/Warner Brothers DVD releases, things could have been worse, but they sure could have been a lot better.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo soundtrack is decent enough, if rather unremarkable. Dialogue comes through cleanly and there aren't any problems understanding any of the performers. Bass response is pretty weak but you'll hear it when it counts – in the action scenes. There are no alternate language tracks, subtitle options or closed captioning options on this release, though there are one or two scenes in the film where the Hebrew dialogue is translated into English through some burned in subtitling.
This release is completely barebones and in fact, the only option off of the menu at all is 'play movie' – there isn't even a chapter menu (although the film is divided up into chapters, you can only navigate them with your remote's next chapter button).
Indisputably the worst of the films in the series, it's no wonder that American Ninja 5 was also the last of the films in the series. While teaming up David Bradley and Pat Morita might sound cool, it's not and this movie proves it. The action and violence that made the series fun is completely toned down and the comic relief is flat. Skip it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.