Tepid 'Surf Ninjas' is a wipeout and a waste of its comic and martial arts talent.

August 21, 1993|By Stephen Hunter

The meek will almost certainly never inherit the Earth, but they appear to have inherited "Surf Ninjas," as innocuous and negligible a youth effort as can be imagined.

Here's the concept: These ninjas surf!

Conceived as a star vehicle for Ernie Reyes Jr., the pre-pubescent martial arts sensation (most notably in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II"), the film encounters rocky going right from the start owing to the fact Ernie Reyes Jr. is no longer pre-pubescent.

Kids always disappoint you by insisting on growing up! I know mine did! So here's strapping teen-ager Ernie Reyes Jr., surely a delightful young man, kicking butt. But somehow the magic is gone. I mean, watching a little bitty child throw grown-ups around was kind of amusing; watching someone as muscular as this guy seems hardly remarkable.

The movie is the mildest and most generic thing in long months. Every shred of personality has been milled out of it by director Neal Israel: all danger, all seriousness, all spontaneity. It feels like it was produced by Barney the Dinosaur.

Reyes and his little brother (Nicholas Cowan) live a low-key teen life at Santa Monica, ditching school, surfing, skateboarding and generally screwing around. But suddenly ninjas start attacking them, and just as suddenly they are protected by a mysterious good ninja guardian (Ernie Reyes Sr.)

Can it be they're the long lost heirs to an Asian throne removed from danger years before but now a threat to the mercenary soldier who took over the country? Or, possibly, these ninjas just want to kill them for being so cute? Which do you think it is?

If you got that one right, you can move on to the next question, which is, "What is Leslie Nielsen doing in a film like this?"

Not much, as it turns out. He plays the comical Colonel Chi, the mastermind behind the plot and the ruler of Patu San. Here's what Neal Israel doesn't know about Leslie Nielsen that Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker do know: He's only funny if you give him funny things to say and do.

See, if he just stands there in a silly outfit, he's about as funny as anybody standing there in a silly outfit, which isn't very.

Next question: What is Rob Schneider doing in this film?

I think Schneider is hysterical on "Saturday Night Live," with that poignant, addled, copymeister bit. Why doesn't someone make a movie about that guy?

But here, pretending to be 15 and given not a single amusing line to read, he's an embarrassment to himself and his colleagues at the network. Careers have foundered on lesser reefs.

Rob! Bob! Robbo-bobbo. Actin' man! Mr. Saturday Night Live. Lorne Michaels' best pal. Xerox king-o-rama! Senor Big Star. Rob, time for a new agent!

The martial arts sequences are bloodless and absurd, though both the Reyeses have good fighting skills. Another thing wrong with Israel: He can't bring any individuality or personality to the endless fight sequences.

, Oh. It's short. That's good.

MOVIE REVIEW

"SURF NINJAS"

Starring Ernie Reyes Jr., Rob Schneider

and Leslie Nielsen.

Directed by Neal Israel.

Released by New Line.

Rated PG. Two stars.

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