It's been a long time since we've seen a decent ninja flick. When the Golden Age of Ninja Cinema (also known as the Dudikoff Era) ebbed at the close of the '80s, the black-clad martial artists retreated to the shadows. This week, director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) aims to resurrect them with Ninja Assassin, a hyperkinetic gorefest starring Korean pop star Rain.
But these ain't your daddy's ninjas. Though they boast the familiar wardrobe (black on black) and weapons (swords, throwing stars, etc.), the ninjas in this flick are thoroughly nasty buggers. Members of a super-secret international syndicate of assassins-for-hire, they can dodge bullets, turn invisible, heal wounds and communicate telepathically. And for the low, low price of 100 lbs of gold, they'll kill anyone you want, no questions asked.
It's that latter aspect that draws the scrutiny of law enforcement specifically, agents Mika Coretti (Naomi Harris) and Ryan Maslow (Ben Miles) of Europol (which appears to be a division of Interpol staffed exclusively with imbeciles). Fortunately for these hapless twits, they find a potent ally in Raizo (Rain), a renegade ninja of unsurpassed ability who nurses a nasty grudge against his cruel former master, Lord Ozunu (Sho Kosugi).
Fueled by childhood memories of the abuse he suffered while at Lord Ozunu's ninja sleepaway camp, Raizo will stop at nothing to bring the entire operation down. Which is good, because his former chums are a persistent lot, arriving in ever greater numbers to snuff out the powerful apostate.
McTeigue's dizzying shaky-cam, combined with the identical appearance of most of the ninja combatants, makes the action difficult to follow at times in Ninja Assassin. It's probably why he felt compelled to accentuate every fight scene with exaggerated bursts of CGI blood. Still, as disembodied heads, limbs and torsos fly across the screen in quantities not seen since Kill Bill, it's nigh impossible to determine who they belong(ed) to. Much easier to pinpoint are the glistening six-pack abs of Raizo, a fighter so badass he can ward off his pursuers while wearing little more than a thin layer of baby oil.
It's a pity Raizo couldn't have applied his blade to the Ninja Assassin script, which encumbers the first half of the movie with endless flashbacks, gratuitous training sequences and pointless political squabbling. Or perhaps he could have imparted some of his skills at deception to McTeigue, who exhibits all of the subtlety and unpredictability of a kamikaze pilot.
This is one ninja flick that should have remained in the shadows.
Hollywood.com rated this film 1/2 star.