dir. John Lloyd
1985 / Silver Star Film Company / ~90′
written by Ron Marchini, Romano Kristoff and Paul Vance
music by Pat Wales, director of photography Bob Aaron
starring Ron Marchini, Romano Kristoff, Paul Vance,
Ken Watanabe, Mike Cohen and Mike Monty
Ninja Warriors is available on VHS via Amazon.com, or in your nightmares
The holidays are winding down here in Wtf-Film-land, the jollity of days past reduced to little more than a slowly deteriorating refrigerated turkey and a few uncollected scraps of wrapping paper scattered about the floor. But much as I (and my waistline) would like to look forward to the year ahead there’s just one more bit of holiday business to attend to: the first annual M.O.S.S. Secret Santa assignment, my contribution to which has already been covered by the wonderful Fist of B-List. Thanks are due to Keith, of Teleport-City fame, for sending along this fetid slice of cinematic merriment, a US-Filipino martial arts fiasco from the bygone heyday of the under-produced action in-epic. It seems that, like myself, Keith had bad-white-actors-pretending-to-be-ninjas on the brain this holiday season, and the biggest surprise of his offering is that neither Joseph Lai, Thomas Tang, or even the inimitable Godfrey Ho are to be found in its credits. Don’t let that fool you, though, as 1985’s Ninja Warriors is at least as dreadful as anything that jolly band of schlock-shop entrepreneurs ever cobbled together.
Even though Ho and co. aren’t involved you’d never guess from the story line, which reads like those for any number of their efforts. Ninja Warriors concerns an evil band of ninja baddies (and one outrageously bearded goon) who are working feverishly to acquire a top secret and ambiguously described formula with which they hope to take over the world. Somehow. The police become involved after a bit of ninja espionage leaves a mountain of dead security guards in its wake. The bumbling lieutenant in charge of the case wastes no time in contacting his ninjutsu-expert pal Steve, who fights against the ninjas’ scheming with his two greatest weapons – bland, quizzical facial expressions and sweat pants.
The plot here is pretty disposable stuff – inevitably the bad guys will fail, the good guys will prevail, and a protracted duel-to-the-death will ensue. Ninja Warriors sticks to those conventions like the good underachiever it is with precious few deviations along the way and, as is usually the case with these sorts of films, it’s only the trappings that manage to set it apart from the rest of its ilk. There’s nothing so wonderful as, say, a rip-off of RoboCop made of spray-painted hockey pads to be seen here, but that’s not to say that Ninja Warriors is without its Z-grade charms.
Top of that list is lead Ron Marchini, who also co-wrote the film with expat co-stars Romano Kristoff and Steve Vance. A quick search reveals that Marchini practiced the Renbukai style of martial arts, and even had a bout with Chuck Norris in the mid-60s, which is evidence enough for me that he has at least some legitimate talent to his name. It’s reassuring to know he had something to fall back on, because try as he might he certainly can’t act. Marchini strives desperately to appear serious and contemplative in the context of the dreadful scripting and similarly dire production values, but mostly just looks confused. He delivers the persistently inept dialogue (much no doubt of his own creation) with an almost statuesque dopiness that’s only highlighted by the questionable costuming. From combo sweats that give him an unfortunate “I’m having a yard sale” aesthetic to the full-on ninja gear he drags out from under his bed later on Marchini is done (does himself?) no favors, but I suppose I should just be thankful that no headbands with “Ninja” printed on them are in evidence.
As for the rest of the cast, it’s never a good sign when your film’s only immediately recognizable talent is Mike Monty – better known as the jackass-General-guy from the sublimely awful Zombi 3 (shot in the Philippines just a few years later). Here Monty plays a police captain whose desk is decorated not with the usual family portraits but with a head shot of Ronald Reagan, and is best remembered for having a sword plunged through the back of his head by Ken Watanabe. Watanabe possesses what may be the only calculable thespian skill evident in the entire production, and under better circumstances might have delivered a decent performance, but even his relatively minor abilities are squandered by heaps of deathly earnest “way of the ninja” speechifying.
Then, of course, there are the ninjas themselves, the faceless minions of Watanabe’s martial arts crime lord whose group-think antics steal from the show what little there is to take. Thanks to a concerted effort on the part of the filmmakers to lend the band the guise of regimentation, if one ninja does something they all do it… and at considerable length. The usual ninja abilities are on display, like appearing and disappearing in puffs of smoke, as well as some that were new to me, like burrowing underground while wearing gas masks (!?), though I must lament that the level of ridiculousness wasn’t punched a few notches higher. Then again, Ninja Warriors is a film in which a white guy in ninja fatigues blows up an entire officeplex with a small bedside alarm clock, which is pretty damned ridiculous even by my estimation. I suppose it’s all just a matter of perspective… and sweat pants.