Main cast: Scott Adkins (Casey Bowman), Tsuyoshi Ihara (Masazuka), Mika Hijii (Namiko Takeda), Todd Jensen (Detective Traxler), Miles Anderson (Temple), Garrick Hagon (Professor Garrison), and Togo Igawa (Sensei Takeda)
Director: Isaac Florentine
Ninja is a movie not usually found in theatres nowadays – it’s an old-school beat-’em-up movie just like those action flicks that were all the rage in the 1980s. The special effects are quite cheesy, so much so that watching this movie is like stepping back twenty years in time.
And as usual, we have the American guy who trumps over the Japanese by being a better Japanese than the rest of them natives. To be fair, Casey Bowman trained the hardest in his martial arts dojo, so he did earn the respect of his Sensei, Takeda, and the affections of the Sensei’s daughter, Namiko. Predictably, we have the jealous guy stereotype, Masazuka, who is also interested in Namiko. Upset by how this American upstart stepped in and proved himself to be better than Masazuka in every way, Masazuka tries to kill Casey in a duel and ends up getting scarred in the face instead. Masazuka is banished from the dojo, but, as expected, he’d be back.
And he’s back with style when he shows up determined to wrest the dojo from Sensei’s control. He’s now an assassin backed by some powerful criminals, and his grand plot ends up causing the death of the Sensei. Now Casey and Nimiko must protect a chest containing some traditional suit and weapons of the ninja from the villain, and they up in New York City, where Masazuka frames Casey for some murders. Poor Casey. The cops don’t believe his claims that ninjas are on the loose killing everyone, so it’s up to him to don the ninja suit and save the day.
This movie packs all the action flick clichés it can think of into its 90 minutes or so, to the point that it’s predictable. It’s actually quite distressingly “old fashioned” how the heroine Namiko is so utterly useless that she can’t even defeat a random mook. The good guy is the epitome of overpowered and it’s not much of a suspense to wait and see whether he can defeat the bad guys. And I wish the ninja suit doesn’t look so ridiculous and cheap, like something stringed together from aluminum, rubber pads, and plastic. I actually feel embarrassed for Mr Adkins when he has to strut around looking like a walking trash bin. The suit looks good on the DVD cover, making me suspect that some judicious tinkering had been done to lead people to believe that this is some high-tech ninja-robot killer movie.
Speaking of that ninja suit, I am somewhat confused by what this movie wants to be. It starts out a down-to-earth “white guy learns from Pat Morita-type dude and avenges dojo” type of movie, but once the suit comes out and the villains are revealed to be in some kind of cult, the movie opts for the cool factor instead and start introducing elements straight out of an action flick with cartoon-like or Japanese anime fantastical elements.
Still, the movie is actually enjoyable in a low-brow manner despite its schizophrenia. It’s not high art, of course, but Scott Adkins can hold his own as a martial artist hero just fine. Plus, that body is hot. The choreography of the fights can deliver some thrills, and there is plenty of action to be had here. I expected some cheesy cheap-looking dumb movie, but I was pleasantly surprised when Ninja turns out to be a cheap-looking but enjoyable flick instead. If it had been more focused on what it wants to be, this one would have been a winner.