Even though the title of the film may suggest a retread of Alien vs. Predator (AVP for the Anderson faithful), Alien vs. Ninja is a slightly different beast. In fact, it is more like a retread of Predator (down to the forest setting) with Schwarzenegger's commandos replaced by ninjas and a real film budget replaced by what would be spent on a Power Rangers episode. That may sound like the recipe for a minor cult classic but in the hands of director Seiji Chiba the results are less than appetizing.
It's a hard knock life for the ninjas of this film. When they aren't busy blowing up enemy fortresses or taking on loads of anonymous fighters in a nondescript forest, they have to contend with ridiculous bloodthirsty aliens. Assuming you aren't on the side of the aliens, the good guys include Yamata (Masanori Mimoto), Jinnai (Shuji Kashiwabara) and Nezumi (Donpei Tsuchihira). In case you were worried about this turning into a testosterone-fest, there is also the alluring she-ninja (shinja?) Rin (Mika Hijii). After our lady and lads assemble a crack team featuring plenty of expendable redshirt ninjas to investigate a mysterious meteorite landing, we witness a number of skirmishes featuring the titular characters. The End.
The paper-thin plot should be a pretty good indicator of what the film's stress points are going to be: the aliens and the ninjas. If the entire idea is to have two groups battle each other for the duration of a film, it sure helps if the fighters are engaging on a basic level. It raises the stakes a bit and gives us a vested interest in the outcome. In the absence of any such interest, the film may as well be about any two arbitrarily chosen groups. Why not Smurfs vs. Gargoyles? How about Soccer Moms vs. Soccer Hooligans or Unicorns vs. Thundercats? My point (and I do have one) is that I will watch anyone fight absolutely anyone else as long as the two 'anyone's are individually interesting. This cannot be said of the aliens or the ninjas in this film.
Now, I understand the inherent issue in giving a man in a latex alien suit an identifiable 'personality'. For that reason, the aliens are off the hook (although special credit goes to the horny one that tries to cop a feel with our shinja). The ninjas have no such excuse. They are all sinfully boring (Yamata, Jinnai) or painfully annoying (Nezumi). The only exception to this is Rin who stands out largely because she isn't one of the boys. It also helps that Hijii works at making her badassery believable. Kashiwabara is given little to do as the preening Jinnai so a lot of the macho heavy lifting falls on Mimoto as the arrogant but adept Yamata. The less said about Tsuchihira the better. I found his comic relief character so darn hateful that I wouldn't want my vitriol to splash onto the actor himself.
Let's set aside my criticism of the characters. If all you were looking for was some goofy ninja on alien smackdowns and a few decent creature effects, I think you would still walk away unsatisfied. The alien looks like a cross between a bipedal dolphin and an angry zucchini. It doesn't help that it uses a vaguely phallic bisecting tentacle to choke victims or that its spawn look like squishy, pink Teletubbies. Perhaps the silly design of the alien is supposed to be part of a larger joke. If so, the rest of the film doesn't follow through with this idea. Tonally, it wishes to be a quirky action-comedy but too often forgoes the comedy to satisfy the action fans. To be fair, the climax finds the right blend of insanity and thrills that the rest of this enterprise should have possessed. Unfortunately, it's tough to sit through roughly an hour of 'ho-hum' to witness 10 minutes of 'wow'.
The movie was presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Although free of obvious defects, the visuals had a flat and overly digital appearance. This especially hurt the CGI shots which came off as excessively artificial. Other than that, this was an adequate presentation.
The audio was presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix with language options of English and Japanese. I chose to view the film with the Japanese track and optional English subtitles. On the whole this was a pretty convincing audio mix. The action scenes definitely came alive although the rear surrounds seemed a bit underused at times.
The main extra is Alien vs. Ninja - Making of (19:31). This featurette has director Chiba explaining his love for science fiction and ninjas as motivating factors in making this film. He mentions that the project was assembled with international (especially U.S.) audiences in mind. We also get a few moments with Yuji Shimomura (action coordinator) who talks about the fights in the film. Interviews with the cast and some discussion of the models and makeup close out this segment. An Original Trailer (3:07) and 8 Additional Trailers are also included.
There is no doubt that writer-director Chiba had genre gold in his hands. Aliens and Ninjas are two great tastes that should have tasted great together. It's too bad we got this instead. A few silly action sequences and an insane climax make this film barely watchable but tough to wholeheartedly recommend. Rent It.