These films were the brainchild of Golan and Globus, two people that really defined action movies for the 1980s. If you are not familiar with the name, they are the guys who brought Chuck Norris into the mainstream with Good Guys Wear Black, Firewalker and other films that nobody remembers. They are also the company responsible for such classic comic book/cartoon films such as Masters of the Universe, Captain America (not the TV ones) and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. But I'm not here to talk about those movies...yet. Instead, I am going to talk about a series that defined the 1980s video market- the American Ninja series! This film series that originally-starred Michael Dudikoff was almost called American Warrior. Good change, guys. Well, let's just dive right into...
Joe (Dudikoff). He is a soldier, but he does not exactly have the 'go get 'em' attitude that you would think. Basically, he enlists because his choice was either that or prison. If any of you have seen Life, you know that he made the right call! His skill-set comes into play when his platoon is attacked by soldiers as they guard a weapon's cache. Oh and just for fun, the general's daughter is with them. All goes well until NINJAS show up. I should mention that this movie is set in the Phillipines, shouldn't I? He saves the girl and we get the usual 'hero has a romance with the film's lone woman' plot point. When he returns to the base, he is not given a hero's welcome. They call him 'a coward' and want to punish him, even though he did save the general's daughter. As John Travolta can tell you, that is not easy! Oh and the master of the ninja's vows revenge. The title line does take place, but feels really forced and made solely for trailer's. Should I be surprised?
*Around this time, we are introduced to one of the coolest guys ever to be put on film (and he knew it): Steve James. Before his death of pancreatic cancer (it strikes again!) in 1993, he put on some of the most awesome movie performances ever, even if Uta Hagen would tear them apart. He plays another soldier who is bested by Joe at a martial arts contest, in spite of Joe having a bucket on his head. They become friends and join forces to battle the evil businessman who is selling weapons to terrorists and the evil ninja clan. A lot of action ensues and we learn some back-story on Joe. Basically, his parents were killed and he was raised by a good ninja. An explosion separated them and gave our hero amnesia (of course!), but his training stuck with him. Blah, blah, blah, ninjas die and the day is saved. There is a little more plot than this, but not enough to really merit attention. The End.
After being accused of cowardice two times, betraying orders and killing his officers, Joe- along with Steve James- is promoted to being an Army Ranger. Man, the military is screwed up! The film begins with our heroes being sent to a lovely island in the Phillipines to help out the Marines with a problem. Cliched lines about the Army being better than the Marines- big check! They meet up with a nice Marine who becomes their buddy/comedy relief. By the way, Joe's girlfriend from the first film plays no part in this movie- continuity be damned! Anyhow, the problem that they are having is that Marines are go missing while out on patrol. Of course, in spite of this, our heroes go to a beach. Given the movie you are watching, it should come as no surprise that they are attacked by NINJAS. Are these the same ones from before? No. Apparently, there is a serious ninja outbreak in the Phillipines! Back on the mainland, they run into a woman who knows all about the problem, but she runs into some trouble of her own. I smell a fight scene!
The evil plot involves a scientist who is kidnapping the Marines and turning them into super-soldiers. If you want to maintain a low-profile, maybe you should not kidnap military personnel! One of the corrupt Marines tries to talk, but does the stupidest thing in the world: stand by an open window as you turn on your evil boss! Yeah, he dies. The woman manages to be able to help them, since her father is one of the scientists that is forced to work for the evil crime lord, who is known as 'The Lion.' Since nobody believes their story (they have zero proof BTW), our heroes must go to the island themselves. This sets up a scene where our heroes fly a tiny plane and fill in some shots that are tailor-made for a trailer. The funny part too is that you never see them in the vehicle when it moves- you only hear their voices. Not surprisingly, our heroes kick tons of ass and save the day. That pretty much goes without saying, doesn't it?
These movies are great, mindless fun. The plots are silly ideas used solely to string together action scenes. As the series progresses, this becomes more and more true. The first film has a more layered plot, although the characterizations are about as complex as an Atari game. The second film is pretty much a cash-in and does not try to hide it. The pairing of James and Dudikoff worked really well, which makes it a shame that they only made three films together. As a side note, Dudikoff has not made a movie since 2002's Quicksand. Come back to us, you stoic bastard! Like I said in the review, I love Steve James' performances in every film, even when they are crap. The man chewed up more scenery than Orson Welles chewed up frozen green peas! If you go in expecting quality, you will be sorely disappointed. If you go in expecting some cheesy fun, you will have a blast.
Next up, we get the third film in the series. Unfortunately, something is missing from this movie. Fortunately, it is not Steve James. Stay tuned...