Monday, 11 January 2010

American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1990)

Director: Cedric Sundstorm.

American Ninja 4: The Annihilation is an annihilation, you betcha, an annihilation of logic with its complete randomness as an action movie sequel that is totally defined by ninjas jumping up on All-American hairdo heroes. We are firmly in Canon Pictures territory from the very first scenes where an elite military unit runs through jungle terrain, which looks like a Southern California national park, firing off guns unconvincingly, like they’re on a Weekend Warrior retreat, at the threat chasing them, which are – you guessed it – ninjas! Yes, stuntmen in black pyjamas pop out from behind every surrounding tree with bows and arrows, picking off the grizzled dogfaces one by one until the survivors hop onto an inflatable boat, escaping by the river-bend when all of a suddenly sudden twenty ninjas jump out of the water, all of whom must be very good at holding their breath under water (they teach that at Ninja Academy, I hear). Watching from a great mountain overlooking the captured American G.I.s is a sneering evil British warlord, Mulgrew (James Booth chewing the scenery like the British ham he is) with a panama hat and binoculars, seconded by a masked super-ninja who wears a white hood and a white vest, looking like a New Romantic bassist who is full of mystery.

Cut to David Bradley as Sean Davidson, the tanned stud who talks like Owen Wilson and who replaced Michael Dudikoff as the American Ninja in American Ninja 3, which by all reports really sucked. Anyway, Bradley is best man at his black side-kick’s wedding and just when the rings are about to be exchanged, what do you know, but a beeper is heard and an important call comes through the Government, forcing Bradley and his tuxedo-wearing buddy to leave the bride at the altar and take the limo to HQ, no doubt paying tribute to the exact same scene from Navy Seals. In a boardroom with a framed picture of then President George Bush Snr, Gavin, their superior officer, gives them the scoop about what happened in the opening credits with those American Delta Force Commandos captured by ninjas in red pyjamas and held hostage by Mulgrew who we are told “above all, hates Americans!” However, Gavin the boss man wants to send both Bradley and his useless sidekick but Bradley warns his superior with the funniest line in the film: “This isn’t a game, Gavin! Those were NINJA!” So, our heroes parachute into a foreign country who are never told the name of, but looks like South Africa but should be called Ninjastan, and they meet up with a street-wise punk kid called Pongo who totes a shotgun and speaks in an accent that sounds like a synthesis of all accents. They get taken to some redneck bar to meet a sleazy contact with a hat and then a Roadhouse-lite bar brawl kicks off amazingly, even though everyone is on the same side. Then they are taken up into the sleazy contact’s office to hear the plans for their secret mission, but the evil Mulgrew (terribly acted by James Booth), a British Colonel Renegade Bad-Guy and his men bust in, shooting the sleazy contact in the hat and chasing our heroes in a Raiders of the Lost Ark styled sequence who manage to cheekily hide under some more hats. Thankfully there’s a sexy Peace Corps agent named Sarah (Robin Stille) who has terrible 1980s, Dallas-styled, big-hairdo and hides our heroes in her mortuary. In keeping with the tradition of the American Ninja series, all of these shenanigans feel like you’re watching a lost episode of The A Team where ninja costumes were sold in bulk.

Moving along, there’s a hilarious sequence where David Bradley and his sidekicks all wind up in a forest clearing chased by ninjas. So, he meditates with his legs crossed, doing the splits no problem, while having a profoundly spiritual moment assembling his high-tech bow and arrow. Then twenty ninjas pop out behind the trees once again and Bradley succeeds in hooting them with arrows and beating them up with his martial arts skills, even though in the background of each fight scene are a dozen ninjas hanging around, waiting their turn basically. Then Bradley realises there’s twenty more ninjas nearby and so he pulls out his playing-card-collection-mini-case of throwing stars and kills them all. Bullshit highlight has Bradley’s useless sidekick confronting three ninjas from his hiding spot, turning his gun on each, firing off one round - BANG - as the ninja dodges the bullet with precision timing, then he turns the gun on the next – BANG - and the second ninja dodges it also, and then he shoots at the third ninja – BANG – and you know what, the ninja dodges the bullet as well, all of them demonstrating reflexes with the slowness of the ancients. Our heroes are captured and there is an outlandish presentation of all the ninjas the evil Mulgrew has at his disposal, which the movie shows off in an overhead helicopter shot of blue, yellow, red and black ninjas all performing choreographed kicks on a mountain top, all for the benefit of an evil Arab general, Maksood, dressed in the Lawrence of Arabia get-up. Then the silver super ninja with an eye patch turns up and runs some new recruits through a training montage and there’s a balancing beam covered in shards of glass that one ninja slips on and gets it right in the undercarriage. Ouch.

With Bradley and his team now captured, handcuffed and tortured by the evil Mulgrew (who even intones to the tied-up Sarah, “all she needs is a stiff talking too!” Hi-ho!), one wonders where is Michael Dudikoff (a.k.a. the walking embodiment of every dated hair salon photo of the Kevin Bacon look) as Joe Armstrong, the original American Ninja, in all of this. Samuel Beckett presents Waiting For Dudikoff. For whatever reason Dudikoff opted out of the third film, money or pride, that’s gone now and he walks into the movie, standing in a church for some reason and teaching kids about the environment. Then Gavin the boss man turns up and tells him to save Bradley and save the franchise in another mission to Ninjastan, which is basically like the movie restarting from scratch. Anyway Dudikoff needs some time to think about this so we get a montage of him sitting by a campfire near his cabin by the lake, drinking coffee and making out like he’s in a Nescafe ad. Then he’s on the plane to Ninjastan, meeting Pongo the cheeky punk kid contact and being driven to the rebellion basecamp of Ninjastan, which looks like a post-apocalyptic quarry where everyone is dressed in leather despite the hot African sun. So, yes, Dudikoff has walked into Mad Max world, or Barter Town as it’s also known as, and fly-kicks a few toughs here and there to prove himself to the resistance while a grizzled rebel leader oversees the action from his tower, proclaiming, “We need men like him!” Anyway, all of this takes a long time, dragging out as if the director had to make a 90 minute movie for Canon, only had 60 minutes of footage in the can, and decided to just keep filming stuff to make up the running time. Finally Dudikoff makes a new ninja sword and strides through the morning sunlight, ready to rescue his friends, by which I mean the also-ran who replaced him in American Ninja III. In one bullshit awesome scene, we see him creep through the jungle wearing a white shirt and jeans, then he drops into a hole in the ground, and out he jumps IMMEDIATELY wearing his American Ninja gear, just like Clark Kent turning into Superman. Amazing.

Skip to the climax where the captured heroes are tied to wooden poles like Joan of Arc multiplied, flames at their feet and arrows pointed at their chests (in the case of actress Robin Stile, their expansive chests). Dudikoff sneaks in the back entrance, scuttling through drain pipes, beating up ninjas here and there, and even CATCHING AN ARROW BETWEEN HIS TEETH, SAY WHAT?!!! Then Dudikoff finds Bradley alone in the prison basement and unties Bradley who then proceeds to fight him and then Dudikoff stabs him a knife because Bradley was trying to kill him but don’t worry about it because that wasn’t Bradley just some ninja in a Bradley mask! Huh? Whatever, let’s keep on with the movie. Then Dudikoff knocks out one yellow ninja, puts on the yellow pyjamas, walks out casually into the imminent execution of his friend, and then kicks some butt while the Mad Max resistance force ride in with their pink Cadillacs and their shotguns to invade the evil ninja training camp. Then Dudikoff unties the real Bradley who proceeds to rescue Sarah from the evil Mulgrew while Dudikoff fights the super-silver-ninja with the eye-patch. Cutting between the two climactic fight, the Dudikoff match wins by a long-shot in the entertainment stakes simply because it ends with him high-kicking the evil super-ninja into a pile of boxes and then, in a traditional move of honour and respect practised by the ninjas long since scribes were able to record such traditions, he throws a grenade onto him and blows him up into a containable explosion. Ah, just like the ancient warriors would have handled it. With the camp overrun by the resistance, Dudikoff strides through the multi-coloured-uniformed dead bodies all around him and turns around to Bradley who killed Mulgrew and has Sarah at his side, and imparts some final words of wisdom from one American Ninja to another American Ninja:

“Sean... you can find me at the school.”

Well, not exactly a closing lines of the likes of ‘You know, this is beginning of a beautiful friendship,” but you know, it works to impart All-American values combined with the Ancient code of the Ninja, which is to stay in school, kids. Get a rad haircut like Dudikoff and catch arrows in your teeth.