Reading a short online synopsis, "Ninja: The Mission Force" sounds like it could be decent. This Telly Award-winning series takes footage from public domain ninja flicks and splices it in with new footage shot by comedians, with new voice-over tracks to match the revised story. Done well, the show could find a funny medium between What's Up, Tiger Lily? and The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra; sadly, this second season doesn't do much for me as a newcomer to the series. Despite some chintzy charm, the jokes are pretty limp, and the integration of the film footage plays out more like a budget booster than a source of creative comedy.
Bruce (Brad Jones), villainous ninja from the first season of "Ninja: The Mission Force", is not as dead as he ought to be. Rising from the grave with a desire for vengeance, he once again sets out in his quest for take over the world. This time, his master scheme involves "emo-dub-country," a vile mixture of everyone's least favorite musical genres, guaranteed to drive people mad. Luckily for the world, beautiful secret agent Cheetah Lee (Allison Pregler) is on hand to stop him, and she's not alone. Comrades include long-distance ninja mentor and Bruce's former nemesis Gordon (Ed Glaser), who provides her with tips via TV set, and Henry, a talking hamster.
The thing about bad filmmaking is that the humor derived from it is so specific, rising up out of a very particular brand of sincerity and ineptitude. I'm sure Rachelle's cast are funny people, but the performances they give here all have a fatal air of winking at the audience with every pause, bizarre line, and physical stumble. Ninja the Protector is presumably funny because it tries to be serious despite its limitations and eccentricities, and so it's a shame to find that missing from "Ninja: The Mission Force", both in the writing and in the performances. I also could've done without the "dubbing" of the show's new footage, the one B-movie joke I would say is simply played out. It's probably done to help "match" with the vintage material, but I doubt the audience would mind much if that aspect of the show wasn't consistent.
The use of the public domain material sounds like it should be the best part of the show, but it ends up being a crutch. Sadly, the main gags in these sections are goofy voices and over-stating the obvious, humor that becomes pretty one-note after awhile. Not to make Kung Pow! out to be some sort of benchmark of comedy, but "Ninja: The Mission Force" could use more of Oedekerk's eye and / or ear for non-sequiturs and total silliness. Adding insult to injury, some of these sections are written with such an awkward bent toward the gags that the story these pieces are supposed to be telling becomes hard to follow. It's one thing to rewind a complicated conversation in a dense thriller for more information; it's a little weird to have to do that for a goofy comedy.
Humor is pretty subjective, so I won't insist that this show is terrible. It's possible that the first season was funnier, and I'm conscious of the fact that pushing myself through episodes I would not have normally watched in order to try and review the show will unfairly affect my opinion. I'm also all about the idea that this genre riff was created by a woman, which is cool. For those with a different comic sensibility than mine, this will be a light, kitschy romp through B-films. For me, though, it's a miss, ultimately mocking the B-movies Rachelle uses instead of honoring their heartfelt brand of cheesiness.
"Ninja: The Mission Force": The Complete Second Season arrives as a DVD-R release. Exaggerated painted artwork and a "distressed" design fit in with the "lost film" concept. The disc comes in a cheap plastic Amaray case, and there is an insert advertising some other DVD releases by Dark Maze.
The Video and Audio
Not much to say about the video or audio presentation: Both the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio are both intentionally softened and fuzzed up a bit in order to "match" the vintage film footage cut into it. It doesn't look or sound all that great, but it also looks and sounds exactly the way it's intended to, so, no complaints.
Two commentary tracks are included: a "Creators' Commentary" with Ed Glaser and Meagan Rachelle, and a "Cast Commentary" with Glaser, Allison Pregler, and Brad Jones. A sampling of both tracks reveals the expected: the former is more about the overall challenges of making the show, while the latter focuses more on memories of specific moments during production and other minutia, although since this show seems to have a complete crew of ten people, there's more crossover than there might normally be between crew / cast commentaries.
The complete feature film Ninja the Protector (1:07:56) is also included. Presented with a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, this slice of '80s cheese should really sweeten the pot for those considering picking this release up. "The Outlaw Script" rounds out the extras, via DVD-ROM.
Although I wasn't a fan of Season 2 of "Ninja: The Mission Force", it's possible that the first season was better, or just that what doesn't appeal to me will appeal to others. If you're interested, I suggest renting it first, or at least checking out an episode or two on the show's official website.
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