At a time when Hollywood seems dead set on giving movies bloodless one and two-word titles that don’t give you a clue as to what the movie is about comes a film called Ninja Assassin. It’s about ninjas who kill people. Finally, a little truth in advertising.
For more than 1,000 years, nine ninja clans have been stealing orphan children under the age of 10 and training them in the art of assassination. For centuries, these clans have sold their services to wealthy individuals, companies, and governments for the cost of 100 lbs. of gold.
When a Europol researcher (Naomie Harris) uncovers their secret, she puts herself and her supervisor (Ben Miles) in danger. This also causes an outcast of the Ozunu Clan named Raizo (Rain) to come to her aid. With her help, Raizo plans to take down the clans and settle a personal grudge with his former master (Sho Kosugi).
Over the course of the film, we learn more about Raizo’s past, his training, his reason for leaving the clan, and the driving force behind his battle to destroy them.
The film opens with a bloody but humorous moment which reminded me of Steve Buscemi’s opening in Desperado. What follows is one bloody film with a body count that would make most 80’s action filcks squeamish. And I will give director James McTeigue and his team (including producers Joel Silver and the Wachowski brothers) credit for coming up with several inventive deaths and action-packed fight scenes. However, they also have to take the blame for the film’s missteps.
The biggest problem is an unwillingness to allow the story to play out. The ninjas are cool, Rain proves a capable action star, and the fight sequences work well. Over the course of the film however, McTeigue tries to outdo himself again and again.
By the time we get to the end, we’re left with two long action sequences–one in a warehouse and the other in the ninja’s lair–both of which drive the body count to hysterical limits, with more explosions, quick edits, CGI effects, and gun-play then you ever want to see in a film about ninjas. It stops being a movie and becomes a video game. When our hero kills a small group of ninjas, its pretty cool. When he kills an army of ninjas, its overkill (in more ways than one).
Ninjas are cool, and although the film is pretty cheesy, I was enjoying myself for the first hour or so. However, I grew tired as the film tried to force the action to be bigger and louder than it needed to be. It’s like a girl you’re dating: You like her, but you know the relationship isn’t going anywhere. She realizes this too, and instead of pulling back and just enjoying the time you have together, she tries harder and harder to make you love her. This, of course, results in you fleeing the scene, despite the fun you’ve had together.
Given its problems, I can’t recommend you spending any amount of money on the film, but if you find it on cable in a couple of years and have a couple hours to kill and a good supply of alcohol handy, you might give it a look.