Title: American Ninja
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Judie Aronson, Guich Koock, John Fujioka, Don Stewart, John LaMotta, Tadashi Yamashita, Phil Brock, David Vlok
Plot: Joe Armstrong (Dudikoff) a drifter conscripted into the U.S. Army to avoid going to prison finds himself drawing on his ninjutsu training when his unit are caught up in a plot to steal weapons from the army being carried out by the Black Star Order of Ninjas.
Review: A standout title for Cannon films which would inturn spawn a further four sequels as here they once more attempt to cash in on the Ninja trend which itself was less focused on any kind of historical accuracy and instead more focused on the look of the Ninja outfit and general excuse to wheel out all kinds of fun gadgets and weapons.
Here Michael Dudikoff plays Joe a loner who has been trained in the ways of Ninjutsu from birth which certainly comes in handy when he’s required to pulls out these skills throughout the film and despite not being a trained martial artist tapped into the James Dean vibe that Cannon films wanted after audiences struggled to get on board with the idea of a female ninja in the equally cult “Ninja 3: The Domination”. Certainly Dudikoff nails that James Dean persona of the loner with a chip on their shoulder but then here Dudikoff is far from the most expressive of actors and for some reason seems to have the same expression throughout. Even at the end were he is the hero surveying the smouldering remains of the battlefield does he not crack a smile and instead maintains the same gruff expression.
Thankfully what he might lack in expressions he does make up for in terms of his abilities as an action star even though he didn’t have any martial arts skills at the time of filming unlike his co-star Steve James which turned into something of an issue between the two with Dudikoff not wanting to be shown up with James requesting that his fight scenes be filmed on the opposite side of the compound to Dudikoff to avoid further problems. The pair would eventually squash their issues halfway through the production but watching the film you could easily believe that Dudikoff was a trained martial artist especially when you look at scenes like the sparing session between Dudikoff and James. James though makes for a great co-star and much more than a sidekick which is character had originally been written as and thanks to James changing a lot of the dialogue which was one of the main conditions of him agreeing to do the film and certainly it makes him much more of his own heroic character especially during the final showdown were he gets to fight his own battle.
The action throughout while perhaps lacking in any kind of logic especially when you get multicoloured ninja’s but it still manages to be enjoyable as a popcorn action flick and with it’s high bodycount and especially during the finale which features a ninja vs ninja showdown between Dudikoff and the head ninja played by Tadashi Yamashita in a fight which is a mixture of the pair trading Ninja gadgets (which include wrist lasers!!) while simultaneously engaging in an obstacle course. Needless to say this film more than delivers in mindless fun.
Perhaps having some kind of expectation going into this film, seeing how its an American Ninja movie perhaps made me view this in a more forgiving light, but when approached with the view point of just having fun with the movie it certainly delivers while the tight runtime which dedicates a large portion to action scenes equally helps and really makes me keen to see what else the series has to offer.