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Two ninja-centric feature films released in the span of six months? Normally, a cause for celebration. Criminally, the two pictures in question are "Ninja Assassin" and now the bluntly titled "Ninja," a pair of features slicing well below the genre's tradition of trashy entertainment. Made on the cheap, horrendously performed, and executed more as a flashy director's reel than a consistent motion picture, "Ninja" irritates far more than it thrills. Ninja pictures come around with all the regularity of Halley's Comet, making the complete uselessness of the feature all the more excruciating.
Casey (Scott Adkins) is a Caucasian warrior, abandoned in Japan long ago and raised in a dojo, under the watchful eye of Sensei (Togo Igawa). Masazuka (Tsuyoshi Ihara) is a rival student, filled with jealousy and rage issues, unable to handle Casey's presence. When Masazuka lashes out violently at Casey during training, he's quickly banished from the kingdom. Years later, Masazuka has resurfaced as a hired killer, using his ninja training to wipe out human targets. However, all he craves is personal revenge, making his way to New York City to seize control of a special mystical box of weapons that Casey and partner Namiko (Mika Hijii) have escorted to America. On the run from Yakuza hit men and Masazuka's wrath, Casey fights his way through wave after wave of enemies to protect Namiko and the mystery box.
It's nearly impossible to take anything "Ninja" is dishing up seriously. Here's a film that clearly didn't have much of a budget to monkey around with, yet the feature desires to be this slick, glossy offering of pummeling action entertainment. The film simply doesn't grasp its own limitations, which makes for an uncomfortable sit as B-movie workhorse director Isaac Florentine burns through a routine of shoddy special effects and cringe-worthy performances.
I suppose the tone for "Ninja" was inspired by action cinema of the 1980s, where heights of stupidity were generally overlooked as long as the film delivered big time on crazy stunt work and general bloodshed. "Ninja" is a hectically paced film for sure, with generous amounts of time reserved for star Adkins and his clenched-jaw feats of strength and agility. And gore? The movie is teeming with wet red, albeit in cruddy CGI form, which is a crushing bore (never trust a director who purposefully splashes blood on the camera lens). "Ninja" has a synthetic feel that's more tight-assed "Matrix" than gleefully retro, boasting inflated visuals that are consistently out of Florentine's range as a filmmaker.
There's a lot of posing going on during "Ninja," along with a script that portions out clichéd interactions with dimwit NYC police and a demonic cult to keep what little story there is afloat. Most of the film is reserved for fight choreography, staged stiffly and unconvincingly, captured on a series of rented backlot spaces, bound together by dated stock footage from 10 years ago. "Ninja" isn't here for the details, but it would've been nice of Florentine to show more effort throughout the film, and not just during the martial art demonstration sequences.
The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) is a mixed bag at best, with good facial detail for close-ups and tight moments of action. The image retains a light grain to infuse the presentation with something of a cinematic quality, but larger sequences suffer from harsh contrast boosting and disappointing shadow detail. Colors are strong, with neon lights and daytime scenes offering the BD a chance to show off what its got.
The 5.1 TrueHD sound mix is a wily one, tearing up and down the range of sounds, giving any audio system a healthy workout. Dialogue is frontal, but buried far too deep into the track, clouded further by the film's complete reliance on unpleasant ADR work. Action sequences are more aggressive, with some directionality during attack sequences (watch out for darts and throwing stars) and a general loudness of scoring cues. In maintaining a specific intensity, the "Ninja" mix often sacrifices clarity, leading to a few points of confusion.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are offered.
It's ninja vs. ninja for the final showdown, but I sincerely doubt many viewers will be invested in the outcome. "Ninja" just wants to flip and bleed, not invite the spectator into the mayhem, hoping a few throwing stars and quick blades will be enough to satisfy the faithful.