Ninja (2009)

Ninja (2009)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Isaac Florentine

Starring: Scott Adkins, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Mika Hijii, and Todd Jensen

Casey Bowman (Adkins) is the lone white student at a dojo in Japan, among a class studying the ancient art of Ninjitsu. His father was stationed in Okinawa as a G.I., and this is the only culture he knows. When a fellow student, Masazuka (Ihara), attacks Casey in anger during a sparring exercise, he is banned from the school by the sensei. Naturally, that drives him to become an evil ninja who uses hi-tech weaponry and does the bidding of an evil cult in America. Meanwhile, the sensei entrusts Casey and fellow student/love interest Namiko (Hijii) to protect something called the Yoroi Bitsu, the historical ninja outfit and weaponry. They travel to New York City and proceed to fight waves of baddies to protect their honor and the Yoroi Bitsu. Things get complicated after Casey and Namiko are arrested by NYC cop Det. Traxler (Jensen), but eventually the inevitable happens: the final showdown between Casey and Masazuka. Who will be the ultimate NINJA?

Entertainment and good times abound with this throwback to the 80’s Ninja Boom. Fan favorite director Florentine is at the top of his game as he delivers action-packed fights and well-choreographed action (along with his trademark “whooshing” sound effects), while frequent collaborator in front of the camera and fellow fan favorite Scott Adkins is also in fine form. Adkins is always enjoyable to watch, and when he’s put in roles like this, he can really shine. No wonder there was a Ninja 2 (2013) - fans clearly wanted more, and we can see why.

Like any good action movie, Ninja actually has a strong, central hero in Adkins (and his trusty sidekick Hijii) as well as a super-evil baddie. Ihara makes a great foil for Adkins as he plays the bad ninja - the guy who was expelled from the dojo and proceeds to break from ancient ninja tradition by using cheats like night-vision goggles. Ninja - the movie - deserves credit for actually trying to imbue the plot with history and true ninja tradition. There’s a (comically fast) scroll at the beginning informing us of the history of Ninjitsu, and a few re-enactments as well. This sets the stage for the action we are about to see.

Ninja delivers the goods - cool ninja violence and a panoply of engaging fight scenes. If we have ONE criticism it’s the over-use (or use, period) of CGI - and because it’s Nu Image, we all know what this looks like - but Ninja gets a pass because all the rest is good, and because it’s in that Florentine style we all know and love: exaggerated motions and big, oversized actions. And there’s plenty of real Martial Arts and stunts as well. So, it’s all good. We’ll let the CGI stuff go in this instance.

Plus, Masazuka is the first Cyber Ninja we’ve seen since…well, Cyber Ninja (1988). He’s also a Cyber Ninja with a machine gun. This is awesome. We haven’t seen a ninja with a machine gun since Ninja III:The Domination (1984), so, it was more than welcome. We also liked the wackier elements of the plot, such as the Temple cult. What made it great is that it wasn’t needed at all, but it was totally welcome. A final observation: in the onscreen title at the beginning of the movie, in the word NINJA, the “A” is a throwing star. We need more clever, cool details like this in movies. Though due to their censorship and hatred of throwing stars, it’s likely that in the UK this movie is called NINJ. We’re imagining it crudely crossed out with a crayon.

In the final analysis, this particular Florentine/Adkins collaboration has cranked out another winner and kept DTV from going into the doldrums for the time being. Not everyone could have pulled from the Ninja Boom well and done it so successfully, so, they deserve credit.  It’s a fun and enjoyable watch, and we recommend it. 

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Chains Of Gold (1991)

Chains Of Gold (1991)- * * *

Directed by: Rod Holcomb

Starring: John Travolta, Joey Lawrence, Bernie Casey, Hector Elizondo, Marilu Henner, and Benjamin Bratt

Scott Barnes (Travolta) is a Miami-area social worker whose problem is he cares too much. He left his former life of working in advertising and being an alcoholic behind so he could try to make a difference to the downtrodden. He becomes personally involved in the life of 13-year-old Tommy (Lawrence), becoming almost a father figure to him. When Tommy is kidnapped by a local supergang, cleverly called the “Youth Incentive Program” - because it doesn’t sound like a gang name - and they force Tommy to work around the clock packaging crack into vials, Scott Barnes gets mad. After, of course, trying to get help from the local authorities - Sgt. Falco (Casey) and Lt. Ortega (Elizondo) - and failing, Scott Barnes does what only Scott Barnes can do - he summons all the awesome power of social work and goes on a rogue, one-man mission to free Tommy from his CHAINS OF GOLD! Of course, there’s also a love interest (Henner), and the final confrontation with arch-baddie Carlos (Bratt). Will Scott Barnes be the new action hero for the 90’s? Find out today...

Because it stars Joey Lawrence and John Travolta, it’s “Whoa!” vs. “Aw Geez!” in the cinematic team-up you always wished would happen, and actually did. Sure, this was made in the “dark period” immediately preceding Pulp Fiction (1994) for Travolta - but he seems to be giving his all, and you really care about the plight of Scott Barnes. He’s the social worker we all wish we had. Naturally, during the course of his social work, he gets into car chases, foot chases, shootouts, punch-ups, gets tortured, and gets thrown into a pit of alligators. Like any good drama about the hard life of a social worker, there is a pit of alligators. 

Though this reference may only make sense to die-hard fans of our site, Chains of Gold is a bit like a cross between Liberty and Bash (1989) and Short Fuse (1986) - with the only difference being that this time around, when Travolta sees a local Hispanic hoodlum steal a briefcase from a pedestrian, he slickly tries to blend in with the streets and says “hey, ese, give me the case!” You see, Barnes is an X-treme social worker who smokes cigarettes, puts his life on the line for his clients, and, to prove he’s a good influence on Tommy, he spends time with him breaking windows with rocks at a building in the area.

Bernie Casey is also here as a cop who is close to retirement - no surprises there - but instead of the classic scene where the Chief tells a rogue cop to turn in his badge and gun, there is a similar scene where Barnes’s boss dismisses him, but because he doesn’t have a badge or gun, he just leaves. He spends his time undercover with the YIP gang, the members of which think it’s such a badass name, they get YIP tattoos to prove their loyalty. This might be the first recorded instance of not a COTE (Cop On The Edge), but a SWOTE (Social Worker On The Edge).

It’s great to see Terl himself get in on the action - Travolta even gets a co-writing credit on the film (presumably he pressured the other writers for more chances to say “aw geez!”).  In most of the movies on this site, there is usually an explanation for why the hero has such advanced fighting skills - he’s a former cop, ex-military, previously a bounty hunter, U.S. Marshal, black belt in several different forms of Martial Arts, or left the Navy SEALS because it wasn’t challenging enough. Something like that. Not so here, which is what’s so funny about Chains Of Gold - no explanation is ever given for why Scott Barnes thinks he can take down a thousands-strong street gang and enter into gunplay and hand-to-hand combat with hardened criminals. I guess it’s all part of the “sparkle” of Chains of Gold.

So for a serious drama about social work, look elsewhere...wait, no. Look HERE. Thanks to the magic of the direct-to-cable, R-rated John Travolta action drama, we think we found DCF’s next recruiting video. 

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett