Clumsy sequel to '3 Ninjas' turns irritation into an art form

May 06, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Let's explore the taxonomy of irritation. Irritation comes in at least four different gradients, each with its own exquisite tonal reality, its niche on the more generalized spectrum of annoyance.

First is the wince, where your face involuntarily knits up in response to stimuli; then comes the slow burn, as the crushing grind of the unpleasantness comes to seem inescapable. Third, of course, is the shudder, as your whole body reflexively issues a spasm of revulsion. And last and nearly terminal is the groan, as the sheer distaste of the experience hits you and you spontaneously generate a great blast of animal agony that must have its origins in the ancient part of the brain.

How do I know all this? Why, I saw "3 Ninjas Kick Back," a veritable clinic in irritation. Just thinking about it irritates me deeply.

Loud, callow, jejune, infantile, puerile and annoying as hell, this follow-up to the equally annoying "Three Ninjas" of two years ago an Excedrin headache powered by a nuclear generator. If you're 6, maybe you can get through it, but I suspect most 6-year-olds will find it as trying as their parents will. In fact, it may be the one thing they can agree on with their parents.

The wince: The three Ninjas are three dreary suburban children from Los Angeles who, through the magic of bad stunt doubles, seem to have acquired world-class ninjitsu skills from their Japanese grandfather, played by Victor Wong, who clearly exists in movies only to take the roles that Pat Morita turns down. The big drama of their lives is a Little League game with a team of bullies. (But if these guys are such kick-butt heroes, how can they be intimidated by bullies?)

The slow burn: The slender thread of plot turns on the silliest of setups: A Japanese industrialist covets grandpa's gold dagger, which is said to unlock a secret treasure. So, of course, he hires a third-rate grunge rock band to steal it, to provide a subtext of Three Stooges physical comedy. Meanwhile, grandpa has decided to go to Japan to present the dagger to the winner of a ninjitsu tournament, but he takes the wrong bag; so the 3 Ninjas go after him with the right bag with the three thieves close behind.

The shudder: The film is basically a platform for the three ninjas -- Colt (Max Elliott Slade), Rocky (Sean Fox) and Tum Tum (Evan Bonifant) -- to be adorable and to step aside while masked stuntmen come in to perform elaborate and unconvincing martial arts pantomime. The martial arts are minimally interesting, but lacking any grounding in emotion, they become empty spectacle. The adorability is what grates. The camera loves to worship the cuteness of the kids, while providing them with the most insipid of personalities, as if to say to all the world: Cute is enough. Cute is everything. They're as deeply imagined as their own movie posters, banal and inane at once. And Little Evan Bonifant has one of those slightly puffy faces, and the camera crowds into his nostrils to worship him. It began to feel indecent after a bit.

The groan: the most irritating thing about "3 Ninjas Kick Back" is its truly grating ethnocentrism. I simply hated the glib way it reduces sophisticated, ancient, cosmopolitan Japanese culture to a tissue-thin cartoon, to be improved upon and bested by three dreary little white kids who effortlessly trump all things Japanese while uttering insipid wisecracks. Aghrrrrrrrh. I hate it when they do that.

"3 Ninjas Kick Back"

Starring Victor Wong and Evan Bonifant

Directed by Charles T. Kanganis

Released by Tri-Star

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