- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
hanksgiving weekend is usually reserved for movies that appeal to the entire family, but this year, a few studios have taken a different approach. While “The Road” may be a pretty dark and dreary piece of holiday cheer, it’s nothing when compared to director James McTeigue’s “Ninja Assassin,” which is the equivalent of releasing “Grindhouse” on Easter. If there’s one thing teenage boys will be thankful for this season, it’s CG blood, because “Ninja Assassin” has more than enough to splash around. Giving new meaning to the term “gratuitous violence,” McTeigue’s latest film may be packed with enough stylish fight sequences to please its target audience, but everyone else will leave the movie completely underwhelmed.
Korean popstar Rain stars as Raizo, a ninja assassin in the Ozuno clan who was kidnapped at a young age and trained to become a skilled master of stealth and martial arts. When the woman he loves (a fellow ninja trainee named Kiriko) is killed after she tries to escape, however, Raizo turns against his master (Shô Kosugi) and wages war on his ninja brethren. For Europol agent Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris), it’s a good thing that he has, because as soon as she begins investigating the secret world of ninja assassins (apparently, governments hire them to do their dirty work), she’s marked for death. Now, the two must work together to take down Ozuno’s shadow organization before they’re killed in a hail of flying ninja stars.
Truth be told, the idea behind “Ninja Assassin” is actually a good one. Modernizing the classic ninja films of yesteryear isn’t exactly a novel concept, but it’s certainly good enough to build a movie around. Unfortunately, that’s all McTeigue is given to work with, and though there are two writers credited for the screenplay (Matthew Sand and “Babylon 5” creator J. Michael Straczynski), their paper-thin plot is merely a means of getting from one set piece to the next. In fact, Naomi Harris’ Europol agent might as well have been called Ellie Exposition, because the only purpose she serves in the movie is explaining big chunks of backstory that most people aren't paying attention to anyway.
When the movie is in full-on ninja mode, however, it’s an absolute blast to watch, with bodies getting sliced in half, limbs being severed left and right, and enough CG blood splattered to make “300” several times over. This is obviously what the Wachowski brothers were aiming for when they first conceived the film, but much like their failed big screen adaptation of “Speed Racer,” it’s all style and no substance. Thankfully, Rain manages to inject a little life into the proceedings with a surprisingly charismatic performance (especially for someone who doesn’t get to say much), while the slick visuals are pure eye candy. It’s too bad the same can’t be said for the rest of the film, because this has B-movie written all over it. “Ninja Assassin” should have been better, but instead of elevating the material it was inspired by, it wallows in the same pool.
Two-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
The Blu-ray release of James McTeigue’s latest action film doesn’t feature much in the way of bonus material, but the few extras that do appear are sure to please fans. “The Myth and Legend of Ninjas” uncovers the history of the ninja (from their beginnings as a real-life resistance movement to their current status in pop culture), while “The Extreme Sport of a Ninja” is a cool behind-the-scenes look at the stunt team’s preparation and execution for many of the major action sequences in the film. Rounding out the two-disc set is a brief featurette on “Training Rain,” a few deleted scenes, and a digital copy.