'3 Ninjas' borrows much of its plot from other movies

August 08, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

"3 Ninjas" isn't a movie, it's a concept for a preview. And judging from the lines of kids waiting sheeplike to surrender their dad's hard-earned money to get into a suburban mall theater yesterday at noon, it was a successful preview.

The movie itself is purely an afterthought, so routine and synthetic and spiritually bleak it's hardly worth commenting upon. The son of a colleague came up with a better line to describe it than I ever could: Three karate kids stay home alone.

That description only misses a couple of key elements: The "Ninja Turtles" sensibility, threaded throughout to no good use except random mayhem and several lengthy rote plagiarisms from the work of Steven Spielberg, who pretty much invented the "I-feel-good-about-being-a-white-kid" school of movie-making, of which this is a prime example.

The plot is laughably meager: A charismatic bad Ninja villain arms dealer is being harassed by the FBI and so he sets out to neutralize the chief fed by kidnapping his three

sons. The sons, though in appearance as all-American as Silvercup Bread, are one-quarter Japanese and their grandfather, a famous Ninja, has been training them. So when the bad guys try to kidnap the kids, we get lots of pint-sized spin kicks and dragon's head punches.

The martial arts choreography is the usual hooey, assisted by trampolines, obliging Chinese stuntmen and sound effects that magnify the sound of a small boy's punch until it sounds like a Patriot taking out a Scud high over the Arabian desert. After just a bit, everything blends together with such seamless tedium that it achieves a near Zen-like monotony.

A couple of things bear comment: There's an extended central sequence in which a trio of Bob-and-Ted types try to break into the house and take the kids, who quickly improvise elaborate defenses; it's a complete reprise of "Home Alone," almost to the last pratfall. A bit later, the famous bicycle-chase from "E.T." is also re-created, virtually shot by shot. Even John Williams' great score for "E.T.," with its soaring sense of childish imagination, is faxed into the movie, a note or two different from the original in order to preclude lawsuits. It's pretty pathetic, however, when this resonant music is syncopated to head bangings, eye gougings and sword swattings that are the true substance of "3 Ninjas."

The boys are as meaningfully developed as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but they don't look nearly as amusing. For the record, if anybody's still reading, they are Michael Treanor, Max Elliott Slade and Chad Power. One is big, one is not and one is in the middle.

'3 Ninjas' R Starring Michael Treanor, Max Elliott Slade and Chad Power.

Directed by Jon Turteltaub.

Released by Touchstone.

PG-rated.

... **

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